In the last year, the country has occasionally been treated to dramatic scenes of the Meru County government, pitting Governor Kawira Mwangaza and Members of the County Assembly (MCA).
The MCAs have twice impeached the governor on the grounds of misuse of public resources, nepotism, bullying, and contempt of court, among others.
Following her recent save by the Senate on November 8, a lobby group and a section of residents from Meru County collected signatures to have the County government dissolved. They argued that the fight between the County Executive and MCAs had slowed development.
If the dissolution process sails through, it would mean that Meru County residents go back to the ballot to elect a new governor, deputy, and Members of the County Assembly.
What the law says
Article 192 of the Constitution states that the President may suspend a county government in the case of an emergency arising out of internal conflict or war or in any other exceptional circumstances.
“A county government shall not be suspended under clause (1) (b) unless an independent commission of inquiry has investigated allegations against the county government, the President is satisfied that the allegations are justified and the Senate has authorised the suspension.”
Additionally, according to the County Government Act, a petition to the President must be accompanied by at least (10) per cent support from the registered voters in the region.
Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi, in an interview with The Standard, opines that to dissolve a county government, first, an individual sends a petition to the president, outlining why a county is not operational.
Once the president receives the petition, he forms a Commission of Inquiry which then investigates the concerns brought forth. The commission will then recommend to the president who will decide whether to suspend the county or not.
If a county is suspended, a caretaker committee is formed as issues in the county are being resolved. The issues have to be resolved within 90 days from when the committee is constituted, failure to which the county government will be dissolved.
“However, the senate has the facility to suspend the operations so that county operations can resume as they were,” says Mkangi.
Currently, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is not fully constituted as some of the commissioners resigned and others retired following the lapse of their terms.
“In the event that the Meru County government is dissolved, for how long will the people stay without representation and without a County govt?”
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Lawyer Mkangi responded; “For as long as there is no IEBC but I don't think it would go there because institutions like the presidency and Senate are alive to the fact that there is no Commission so I don't think they can get to 90 days with no solution.”
On his part, political analyst Dismas Mokua argues that all elected leaders who represent citizens, partners and stakeholders are a key success factor in identifying county development priorities as captured in the agenda.
“The Constitution gives Meru residents the opportunity to express displeasure at the county government by collecting signatures and sending them home,” he said.
“In the event that the county government or Assembly is dissolved, the citizens will have the opportunity to vote again. They will be expected to vote with their selfish interests in mind and elect a new set of leaders…Leaders who are aligned with citizens' interests will be a breath of fresh air in Meru.”
A previous situation
It is not the first time that residents have collected signatures to have a county disbanded. In 2015, a similar situation was witnessed in Makueni following protracted wrangles between the County Executive and the Assembly.
Former Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana had accused the MCAs of frustrating his government by failing to pass the budget and doing things against the law.
“The MCAs do not follow the law. This is a destruction assembly where MCAs have turned the House into a business hub,” he said.
A commission of inquiry constituted by former President Uhuru Kenyatta examined the petition by Makueni residents and recommended to the President and Senate that the county be suspended.
Led by the commission's chairperson Mohammed Nyaoga, it said it had unearthed “exceptional circumstances” at the county that warranted a suspension.
However, the former president overturned the decision saying the reasons the commission advanced to back its position did not constitute exceptional and extraordinary circumstances to meet the threshold set in the Constitution.
Additionally, Kenyatta said the right precedent needed to be set by setting a high bar, threshold to ensure that counties are not suspended on weak grounds, which could expose devolution.
In the event that Meru County is dissolved, it will go down in history as the first county government to be dissolved.