Mistrust and lack of laws cited as counties’ bloc hit by apathy

Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa (right) receives a soapstone curved shield from Kisii Governor James Ongwae during the Lake Region Economic Block Summit in Kisii last Friday. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]
Mistrust and lack of proper public participation could be holding back the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) which comprises 14 counties.

At the end of the bloc’s two-day 4th summit in Kisii on Friday, it emerged that divisions between governors and county assemblies was delaying the ratification of the LREB Bill.

Adoption of LREB Bill makes it possible for the county assemblies to pass budgets associated with the bloc and enables parties to fulfill their financial commitments towards unity.

So far only four counties - Kisumu, Kisii, Migori and Kakamega - have passed the Bill but key protagonists in the formation of the bloc insist they only need two more counties to enable the caucus officially open a bank.

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Only the host Speaker attended the summit while a number of majority and minority leaders boycotted the meeting. Kisii Assembly Speaker David Kombo warned that assemblies remained the major impediment in the establishment of the bloc. “We need to grasp the idea and have it actualised. We can’t continue with squabbles at this stage,”  said Mr Kombo

Despite promises from Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama and his Bungoma counterpart Wycliffe Wangamati to whip their MCAs to pass the Bill, questions lingers on why it has taken long to do so.

An MCA from Nyamira County who sought anonymity accused governors of ignoring assemblies in the formative phase. “They only want to whip us into the legislation process without proper consultation and enough public participation. We will not be coerced,” said the MCA.

However, the bloc’s secretariat argues they have made significant progress including meeting members of all the 14 county assemblies. In resolutions read by LREB chairman Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), a technical team will start a three-day tour of various sugar factories on January 16, 17 and 18.

“Significant progress has been made by the conclusion of the LREB joint venture agreement pursuant to the advice from the Auditor General, Controller of Budgets and Office of the Attorney General,” said Oparanya.

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Fact-finding

He explained that the joint national government and LREB task force on sugar sector is in its final phase of fact-finding. “The taskforce will this month be holding leaders consultative meeting and a stakeholders’ forum,” he said.

They further resoled that the expansion of regional infrastructure was ongoing and of particular interest is the expansion of the inter-county road network and maritime transport across Lake Victoria. This, according to the bloc, will involve the refurbishment of ports, landing bays, water hyacinth clearing and dredging of Lake Victoria.  Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa attended the summit. Governors Wilbur Ottichilo, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Sospeter Ojaamong, Joyce Laboso, James Ongwae, John Nyagarama and Wycliff Wangamati also attended.

The LREB journey began in 2015 and is based on a joint economic growth and development strategy leveraged on the competitive and comparative advantages in individual counties.

In October last year during the bloc’s 3rd Summit in Bomet, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Devolution ministry to finalise a policy on the formation of regional blocs.

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On Friday, Wamalwa said the national policy document was important for the six economic blocs in the country as it will authenticate their operations and open the way for negotiations with donors and inter-government agencies. Further, the policy allows member counties to engage the public on ideas. 

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