Counties face cash crunch as MPs fight over vital Bill

President Uhuru Kenyatta signs into law the Health Laws (Amendment) Bill of 2018 and the Assumption of the Office of County Governor Bill at State House, Nairobi.
Counties could become casualties of an ugly supremacy battle between the National Assembly and Senate, which could see residents denied services.

Angered by the disregard of their input on a health Bill signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta, senators have threatened to collapse mediation talks on a Bill on county funds, which could effectively starve counties of cash and paralyse their operations.

The grandstanding by the two Houses over Division of Revenue Bill and Health Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, has degenerated into a war of words among House leaders.

The National Assembly rejected an attempt by the Senate to increase allocation to counties by Sh20 billion, occasioning a standoff that has to be resolved through mediation. Senators insist they will not back down.

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Two Houses

Even before members representing the two Houses sit to negotiate a compromise version of the Division of Revenue Bill, relations have been poisoned even further by assent of the amended Health Act that Senators argue was passed without their input.

Senators say those are attempts to undermine the Senate and also cite latest developments where Cabinet secretaries snub senate summons.

So acrimonious is the fight that National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale and his Senate counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen yesterday exchanged bitter words, with Duale calling his colleague a liar.

Senators, who believe the Government is also siding with the National Assembly, have vowed to take the fight to the public, urging them to ignore the Health law and challenge it in court.

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This is taken as a direct affront even on the President who signed the law on Monday, in the presence of the leadership of both Houses including Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka and Mr Murkomen.

Murkomen insisted they were not aware that the Bill, which they argue must have Senate’s say as it touches on a devolved function, was part of the documents that were signed by the President. He claims he protested to the Head of State at the time but he was ignored.

The acrimony has poisoned the atmosphere at a time bi-partisanship is required to prevent counties from being plunged into a financial crisis.

Angry senators have threatened to cripple mediation talks on the Division of Revenue Bill, which might effectively collapse the legislation without which there would be no basis of sharing out national revenue between the two levels of government.

In turn, a stalemate on the Bill would stall the County Allocation of Revenue Bill, which guides division of funds among the 47 counties. That means the devolved units would have no money to finance their 2019/20 budgets.

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Yesterday, a senator named to represent the Senate at the talks with the National Assembly said the Senate was in a bad mood. “This matter will end up in court or the Bill will collapse. 2016 reloaded,” he said referring to a standoff three years ago.

Majority Whip Senator Susan Kihika (Nakuru), a member of the mediation team, has vowed to ensure counties are properly resourced.

“This time round we are not ceding ground. On this one, you can be guaranteed that senate will not take anything less than what we have passed,” she said.

Minority leader Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni), who is also a member, said they would seek to establish the reasons for the deductions to counties and the thorny issue of the multi-billion medical leasing equipment, which they want halted as they voted to suspend Sh6.2 billion allocation.

Senators’ decision to increase counties' vote from Sh371 billion to Sh391 billion, with Sh335.7 billion as equitable share instead of Sh310 billion in line with National Treasury proposal has been overturned by the National Assembly.

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“I urge the members of the mediation committee to deal with this important subject expeditiously and report back within the stipulated timings,” said Lusaka when he named the committee members representing the Senate.

He stressed: “It is important to note that counties depend on the passage of these Bills for budget planning purposes and efficient serve delivery to the people. It is my hope that the passage of these two Bills will be expedited within the next few days.”

President's intervention

Council of Governors chair Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) said the infighting by MPs was affecting counties' operations and called on the President to intervene.

“The President should now step in at this early stage and show direction. He should engage the two parties and also involved governors to forestall a financial crisis,” Mr Oparanya urged.

He said if things get out of hand, they will move to court.  

“I'm calling out Senator Murkomen for falsehoods. The senator claims the Act was passed unprocedurally as it was never considered by the Senate as required by the Constitution,” said Duale.

“When we push for certain legislative positions as a senate, we do so for the benefit of Kenyans. We will not be intimidated, this House will continue doing its job,” said Murkomen.

He vowed to go to any length to ensure the dignity of the Senate and Parliament as a whole was restored.

But he expressed his disappointment with the President’s action and that of the National Assembly, insisting that Health is a concurrent function of the two levels of government.

“I'm glad that I gave my personal advice, the law is not law for the purposes of the constitution. That advice has been ignored,” he told the Senate.

He also took a swipe at CSs, saying they are being incited by the National Assembly to ignore senate summons.

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