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Jubilee governors revolt against Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto over funds

Deputy President William Ruto (right) walks with Jubilee governors into a meeting at his official residence on Monday. [Photo: DPPS]

By Geoffrey Mosoku and Roselyne Obala

Nairobi, Kenya: The push for a national referendum on higher county funding remained on track Monday after a five-hour crisis meeting in Nairobi ended with governors holding their ground.

After five hours of closed-door discussions with Deputy President William Ruto, governors affiliated to the Jubilee Coalition refused to cede any ground in their crusade for a constitutional referendum, sources told The Standard on Monday.

Ruto chaired the meeting at his official residence in Karen Monday that came against a backdrop of internal feuding in the ruling Coalition and resurgent opposition CORD.

The meeting was widely seen as an attempt by the Jubilee leaders to calm the gathering storm over devolution in which the governors are pressing for increased funding and transfer of functions to counties.

The 21 governors present appeared to win round one of talks aimed at changing the law after a meeting lasting more than five hours.

A source who requested anonymity said Ruto told the governors of concerns that the Government was being portrayed as the “enemy” in the crusade for a referendum.

He complained that the perception of a split in the Jubilee Administration was a political liability that the opposition could exploit for political mileage.

He is reported to have declared during the meeting that in the event of a referendum on the issue, the Jubilee government would want to be seen as a partner rather than hostile to the push — a statement that captured the government’s worst fears.

In an attempt to avert a situation where the referendum is used to stir anti-Jubilee Government sentiments, the meeting resolved that if a plebiscite became inevitable, the national Government would take over the process on grounds that it needed everybody on board.

That suggested the government is determined to forestall a polarising campaign that not only undermines stability but sows seeds of discord against the government particularly should the proponents of the push triumph.

The 2005 constitutional referendum rallied the opposition against then President Kibaki’s administration and the victory cemented the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

Following long hours of discussion, Ruto told the governors that the referendum was likely to divide the country, especially given that former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s CORD had indicated its support for the governors’ and Senators push. 

The Deputy President sought to assure the governors that he and President Kenyatta backed their demands, saying that funding would be phased.

He pointed out that this year’s allocation to counties stood at 32 percent of the revenue, much more than the 15 per cent stipulated under the Constitution.

A total of 21 governors attended the meeting while two sent apologies. Cabinet Secretaries Anne Waiguru (Devolution) and Henry Rotich (Treasury) also attended the meeting.

Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, the Council of Governors’ chairman, reportedly told the meeting that they had no problem with the President and his Deputy.

He reportedly turned the heat on the Cabinet Secretaries who in his view did not appreciate political considerations while making important decisions.

Sources intimated that the national government officials criticised squabbles over funding for counties, saying they were painting the Jubilee coalition in negative light.

Ruto indicated that the government was consulting with the National Treasury and other organs to find ways of increasing funding to the counties, which would be done systematically.

However, the governors insisted that although the Government had shown goodwill by increasing funding, increases must be backed by law. The only guarantee is to have the constitution amended, they argued.

“The bare minimum we are looking at 40 to 45 per cent which has to be in law. All we are saying is that funding should not even be limited to this percentage but be determined by the functions undertaken by the county governments,” Meru Governor Peter Munya said.

After the meeting, Ruto told journalists that the government was committed to supporting devolution as espoused in the Constitution.

Ruto announced that the government would convene another meeting before the end of this week to deliberate on the thorny issues that have threatened to divide the national and county governments.

“To avoid any grey areas in the law, we have agreed to assemble everyone involved in devolution to see ways of harmonising the laws,” he said.

He said the meeting would bring on board all the 47 governors, representatives from the Executive and ministries that handle devolution, the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA), Commission on Implementation of Constitution (CIC), Transitional Authority (TA) and legal committees of both the National Assembly and the Senate.

Governor Ruto, who has been in the forefront of pushing the devolution agenda, said that the meeting would agree amendments to address inconsistencies in the Constitution.

Asked if the governors were backing down on their push for referendum, Ruto indicated that the matter could not be avoided with the coming meeting slated to discuss the contentious issues.

He said consultations on laws relating to various aspects of devolution would be launched in order to facilitate devolution.

The national and county governments are tussling over their roles with the latest report detailing major functions the central Government is reluctant to cede.

A 36-page document prepared by the Transitional Authority titled The final transfer of functions-merged details the devolved functions and those erroneously assigned to counties that should be reversed.

Monday, a statement released by the Deputy President’s office said his meeting with governors had adopted a framework that would expedite the transfer of functions to county governments.

The meeting, it added, agreed that devolution was a core agenda of the Government as espoused in the Jubilee manifesto.

“The Executive and the Governors agreed to continue engaging each other as well as consulting other stakeholders to make devolution a success,” said the statement.

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