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Committee to arbitrate county & tourism ministry park revenue row

The protracted dispute between the Ministry of Tourism and Taita-Taveta County Government over sharing of revenue from Tsavo National Park is set to be resolved after the national government through the Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee (IGRTC) took over the matter and promised to speedily mediate over the thorny matter.

The county government has termed the pledge by the committee as ‘promising’ with senior officials expressing confidence that the mediation process will be fast-tracked to allow the county start earning additional revenue from the iconic park.

Ms. Sadia Abdi, the Vice-Chair of IGRTC, said the committee was fully committed to resolving this dispute and promised to bring all stakeholders together; a move that will help find an amicable solution to these wrangles.

Speaking in Mwatate on Tuesday during a meeting with the county leadership, Ms Abdi stated inter-governmental disputes required mediation and arbitration and moving to court should be the last course of action.

“We are committed to working closely with all parties in this matter to find a lasting solution. This dispute can be resolved through mediation and all stakeholders are committed to finding a common ground,” she said.

Since 2013, Taita-Taveta County has been embroiled in a long -drawn dispute with the Ministry of Tourism. The county had several pending issues relating to this dispute including the place of the national park in county development, park revenue sharing, grazing and mining inside the national park amongst others.

Several attempts to resolve this row have been futile with county and national officials exchanging accusations of lack of goodwill.

Ms. Abdi, who chairs the sub-committee for mediation thematic area, disclosed that after meeting local leadership including Members of County Assembly (MCAs), the MPs and senator, the committee will meet the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism to discuss the issues raised before holding a joint engagement with all stakeholders.

“We will also meet the Cabinet Secretary to discuss this matter and get to hear their concerns and issues. We are confident there is enough goodwill from all parties involved to bring this matter to a closure,” she said.

Taita-Taveta Deputy Governor Christine Kilalo said the county was hopeful the IGRTC will see the merit in the county’s concerns and help engage the Ministry of Tourism to have them fully addressed.

She pointed out the county has always pushed to have a percentage of revenues from the Tsavo National Park owing to the fact that the park occupied 62 percent of the total county land mass. She further said that other issues like controlled mining and employment of local youth as rangers have also been floated to the ministry but have been ignored.

She noted that with new leaders in office, the county had taken the approach of engaging in wide consultations and adopting a unified front in presenting their issues to the government.

“In the past, the issues were discussed but there was a lack of a coherent approach on how they should be presented. We are now engaging stakeholders and leaders to have a common approach on what we need as a county. We believe this approach will yield results,” she said.

The mediation process is expected to last for three months with the IGRTC acting as the arbiter. The committee will also oversee the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and other binding agreements between the two levels of governments.

To date, the IGRTC has received 20 disputes pitting county governments against the national government. The committee has successfully resolved 11 disputes and overseen the signing of MoU for nine other disputes. The issues ranged from land, functions, office space and ownership of assets.

By Wagema Mwangi

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