The storm brewing in Taita-Taveta County between Governor Granton Samboja and Members of County Assembly exploded on Tuesday.
This is after the Governor, in an unprecedented move, initiated the collection of signatures from the public in a petition to President Kenyatta to dissolve the county government.
Already, over 500 local residents have signed the petition that is seeking 18,000 signatures to trigger the dissolution process.
The move sent shockwaves across the ranks within the county administration even as the County Assembly downplayed the effect of Samboja’s move.
While addressing hundreds of local residents at his Wundanyi office on Tuesday, Governor Samboja explicitly accused MCAs of wrecking his development plans to spur growth in the county after they allocated themselves over sh840 million as Ward Development money.
Allocating money to specific projects in the wards virtually takes away the governor’s powers to allocate such monies for a more deserving case.
Samboja said the County Assembly had gradually usurped the role of the executive and by so doing abnegated their responsibility of playing the critical oversight role.
“After wide consultations, I have decided that the best gift we can give to the citizens of this county is to dissolve the government and have every leader go back to seek re-election,” he said.
At the heart of this nasty fight between MCAs and the executive is the disagreement over several allocations for sh5.3 billion in the 2019/2020 financial year.
The governor claimed that the County Assembly was crippling his plans by slashing allocation meant for critical departments that will allow him fulfil his election pledges.
In an earlier memo to the County Assembly, the governor had protested the County Assembly’s move to allocate each of the 20 wards a sh5 million allocation from Road Maintenance and Fuel Levy Fund.
The total allocation in the fund was sh120 million.
The Assembly had further allocated each ward an additional Sh2.5 million from the total amount of Sh50million allocated to DATU Zawazisha Fund for projects by youth, women and persons living with disability.
The assembly also allocated each ward Sh5 million for bursaries, sh10 Million for Ward flagship Project and ward specific project worth sh19.1 million.
The governor argued that the priority should be to purchase graders and other road-making equipment to improve the conditions of the roads in the county at a minimum cost.
He also complained that the County Assembly had slashed the amount payable to pending bills from sh414 million contained in the budget estimates to sh249 million.
“We cannot even clear the pending bills because the MCAs have slashed the money we had allocated for that vote,” said Samboja.
Other departments whose allocation has been slashed include legal department whose budget has been reduced from sh26 million to shs6 million.
The budget for communication and strategy department has also been reduced to sh4 million from the proposed sh11.7 million.
The budget of sh274 million allocated for payment of casual workers was also slashed by 50 per cent to sh174 million.
The budget committee in the County Assembly however said the reduction of executive votes was in good faith and was done to ensure prudent management of public funds.
Mr. Godwin Kilele, chair of the budget Committee, said the executive had not provided concrete information to justify high allocation in several votes.
“There is no compelling evidence that such money is needed. Votes like payment of casual workers is too high yet there is no evidence that we have such a high number of casuals working in the county,” he said.
While defending the County Assembly over claims of crippling the executive, speaker Mr. Meshack Maghanga said the assembly was fully complying with all relevant acts including Public Finance Management Act 2012.
He stated that the County Assembly was not implementing any project in the wards contrary to what the governor was alleging.
He pointed out that the specific departments under the executive would implement the projects identified at the ward level.
“None of the members here implements a single project. All they have done is allocate money for projects in their wards for executive to implement,” he said.
The speaker further said there was contradictory information on pending bills with the executive giving varying figures.
He said that the Deputy Governor Majala Mlaghui had quoted the bills at sh373 million while finance officials quoted the pending bills at sh414 million.
“We are getting different figures on pending bills from the executive. We have however allocated sh249 million to offset the verified pending bills,” he said.
However, questions abound as to why all 20 MCAs allocated each ward a uniform sh41.6 million despite the wards having varying development needs and population.
The MCAs argued that ring-fencing the ward money by allocating it to specific projects would shield it from being manipulated by the executive and also protect MCAs who might otherwise be punished by executive for refusing to ‘toe the line’.
“This is just a safety precaution incase the executive decides to punish a Ward by denying it development over disagreement with any of us,” he said.
Such explanations however have failed to convince a large number of local residents who are calling for disbandment of the assembly.
Mr. Kelly Aduo, human right activist from Muslim for Human Rights (MUHURI) led a protest march and barricaded the county assembly’s gates for over four hours before they left.
He termed the assembly as having gone rogue and needed to be reminded of their role.
“They have forgotten what they came here to do. The governor should not sign that budget,” he said.
By Wagema Mwangi