With trucks already on their way to Mombasa, a row is simmering over what the Turkana community should do with their five per cent share of oil revenues.
The lack of structures on how to administer the revenues, the differences in opinion on what approach to take and the vacuum in law has created confusion.
Under the State House-brokered revenue sharing formula, the national government will receive 75 per cent of the total oil revenue, the county government will get 20 per cent while the community will get 5 per cent.
Local leaders are divided on how to spend the money, with some calling for direct cash payments to residents, a proposal that President Uhuru Kenyatta warned against.
During the launch of the Early Oil Pilot Scheme (EOPS) in Lokichar, Turkana County on Sunday, it was clear that this could be the next battlefront among leaders.
The President fired the first salvo when he warned against suggestions that the money should be shared equally among residents “so that people can benefit directly”.
Under this model, being pushed by among others Turkana South MP James Lomenen, locals will receive cash transfer payouts similar to the retirees’ benefits scheme.
Sweetness of their oil
The leaders favour a system where the money will go directly into people’s accounts or smart cards and they will choose whether to buy unga, pay school fees, or just gobble it up.
“The people should feel the sweetness of their oil,” says Lomenen.
But according to the President, such a model is counterproductive and the money should be centrally managed, preferably by the county government.
“Some people want the money to go into residents’ pockets. Let the money benefit the whole community. The issue of saying that everyone will be given his share, take two beers and go back home every evening will not help the community,” said the President.
“When the oil runs out after 25 years, how will the money have helped you? You should use the money to benefit yourselves and future generations. Ask your leaders for roads, hospitals and schools. We do not want money to go into people’s pockets.”
Turkana North MP Christopher Nakuleu agrees with President Kenyatta, terming Lomenen’s proposal as “shameful and shortsighted”.
“The five per cent must be used prudently for development, including the provision of basic services such as water, roads and electricity. I support what the President said because giving people money to eat is not sustainable. After the oil is depleted, what will they have to show for it?” says Nakuleu.
But Lomenen and some MCAs say without money going directly to the residents, it will take a long time to or it to make an impact on their daily lives.
“The locals are struggling with basic needs such as food, clothing and other necessities. You can build schools for people, but how will you have helped them if they go home and have no food?” says Lomenen.
“The five per cent is meant to cure the negative image that the Turkana have no clothes and are hungry. Give them the money and if they want to use it to buy cigarettes, that is up to them.”
Katilu MCA James Abei and County Assembly Minority Leader Angeline Epetet agree.
“The community wants to benefit in cash and I’m in support of what the community is saying. We are in the county assembly and the laws will be passed according to what the people want. If they are given the money, there will be no disturbance, but there are likely to be problems if they do not feel the direct benefits,” says Abei.
Epetet says the plan would boost individual enterprises and the county’s economy.
“They (residents) can even use it to start small businesses and buy food, instead of waiting for relief food. What the people need is information so that they can invest the money in profitable initiatives such as chamas and table banking,” she says.
Former Nominated MCA Selina Ekope says the lion’s share should go to people in areas where the oil fields are located in Turkana East and Turkana South.
“Residents are asking why their share should go to the county government. What will the 20 per cent county government share be doing?” says Mrs Ekope.
And in an indication the issue could be a hot potato, Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok chose to throw the ball to the Turkana County Assembly when he addressed the EOPS launch.
The governor said the assembly will enact laws on the use of the funds. He, however, did not clearly tell the residents where he stands in regard to how the money should be shared out.
“We are going to enact laws on how the 20 per cent and the five per cent will be administered. We are going to collect views on how the five per cent for the community will be used. We want to have a clear direction on the use of the funds,” said the governor.