Jubilee's plot to counter Cord's referendum push

Raila Odinga speaking at Uhuru Park during the saba saba rally organized by cord coalition. [PHOTO: MBUGUA KIBERA]

NAIROBI, KENYA: The Jubilee Government hopes to stop the Opposition's referendum bid by convincing governors that it has given county Governments enough money.

Among the hot-button issues the Coalition for Reform and Development (CORD) has isolated to justify its push for a referendum is the allocation of money to the counties. The Opposition wants this set in law to at least 40 per cent of the national revenue, instead of the current 15 per cent.

But the ruling coalition will try and convince governors that the Government has given them more money than the minimum constitutional threshold, and that it is a CORD-led National Assembly committee that is frustrating allocation of more cash.

Jubilee insiders say that despite putting on a brave public face, the ruling coalition is worried that CORD's focus on the allocations will prove populist and could be the key to the success of its referendum bid. The ruling coalition is now planning meetings with governors and members of county assemblies (MCAs) over the matter.

The Government views the Opposition's selection of resources for devolution for a referendum issue as a strategy to rally broad-based support, hence the crafting of counter-strategy to change the narrative.

Jubilee parliamentary leaders acknowledge even Jubilee-allied governors may believe the Government is frustrating allocation of funds to counties and could support the referendum push.

Jubilee's fear is that the Opposition is tapping into the discontent that last year saw senators and governors flirt with pushing for a referendum to raise the constitutional revenue allocation threshold.

That campaign only floundered after CORD leader Raila Odinga introduced a clamour for a parliamentary system as part of the referendum bid, a partisan issue that scuttled the bi-partisan push.

"We are not panicking by talking to our governors and even MCAs. We know some are not conversant with the parliamentary procedures with regards to division of revenue so that we can work as a team. We want them to understand that the national Government is only allowed to divide its revenue based on the audited and approved books of accounts," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Beatrice Elachi.

National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale accused the House Public Accounts Committee (PAC) led by CORD's Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba of sleeping on the job.

"The chairman of PAC is a CORD member. The Auditor General has done his bit. He has already forwarded to Parliament the accounts of 2012/2013 financial year. If PAC, led by the Opposition, presented those audited accounts for approval by Parliament, counties will get even above 50 per cent," Duale said.

But Suna East MP Junet Mohammed said: "Jubilee should not reduce the issues affecting Kenyans into a contest between two people. The referendum agenda is not about Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta. It is about the people of Kenya."

"We want to constitutionalise the allocation to counties at 40 per cent to ensure we guarantee Kenyans the benefits of devolution. The issues Jubilee are raising are peripheral matters," he added.

Machakos Senator Johnston Muthama said the Jubilee Government has no option but to accept a referendum.

"We have formed a committee of experts to come up with the questions. Jubilee cannot dictate and set the agenda for the referendum. We will craft the issues we want Kenyans to make a decision on. We have the support of Kenyans who believe that the Jubilee administration has failed them on a number of issues. It is the direction to go to redeem the country from the jaws of greedy people," he said.

Last week on Tuesday, Duale tabled the 2012/2013 audited books of accounts by the Auditor General, Edward Ouko. The Constitution stipulates that the share of national revenue allocated to counties should be calculated on the basis of the most recent audited accounts of national revenue received and approved by the National Assembly.

Counties were allocated Sh226 billion in the 2014/2015 financial year, but based on the audited and approved accounts of 2011/2012. Parliament lags behind by a year with respect to the audited accounts of the national Government.

The Jubilee alliance wants to counter the devolution agenda by banking on the steady increase in allocations to counties. The current Sh226.66 billion allocation represents 43 per cent of the recent audited revenues approved by the National Assembly, which is a growth of 19.3 per cent over the Sh190 billion allocation in 2013-14.

So Jubilee plans to meet governors and has lined up sensitisation programmes with county assembly speakers and MCAs in its strongholds to explain its position.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago claimed the Opposition had sensed defeat in the referendum and wanted the support of governors.

"CORD knows they won't win a referendum and that is why they have brought in the issue of increase in county allocations. CORD will not win such a contest even if they were allowed to get it. It's by simple majority and not fifty plus one," Mandago said.

While Jubilee has 24 governors, the alliance still controls majority of CORD's 23 county assemblies. Support from counties is critical as a draft Bill should garner the backing of 24 counties to make it to Parliament.

CORD is reported to be narrowing its referendum agenda to three hot button issues. Apart from increment of counties' share of national revenue, the Opposition also wants some of the security apparatus of the State devolved to the counties.

And although CORD’s push for the dissolution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is the third issue, the first two are meant to shore up broad-based support. But Jubilee is determined to avert another grueling campaign that could see President Kenyatta and Raila engage each other in yet another political showdown, barely one and half years after the General Election that divided Kenya.

"Raila is only interested to have a contest with Uhuru before the 2017 general elections. He is just playing. We will deny him that contest," The National Alliance (TNA) chairman Johnson Sakaja said.

"We are aware of their scheming and know they are keen on another contest. The issues they want Kenyans to take a vote on can be solved within set institutions in the Constitution. The Opposition knows this but because they know there is no serious issue that requires constitutional amendments through a referendum, they have devised a political duel with Jubilee," said Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen.

"The only problem with CORD is that they think that everything must be a fight. The point CORD must realise is that not everything should be a fight. We equally share the concerns like other Kenyans, but we strongly believe and respect institutions to solve the problems," said Sakaja.

National Assembly Deputy Majority Leader Naomi Shabaan said the Government was not shaken by calls for a referendum, and that even if the Opposition go its way, it would still lose.

"We have made it clear several times that we as Government are not opposed to addressing the problems facing the country. What we are faulting CORD is their spirited disrespect for constitutional institutions put in place," said Shabaan.

She said the Government was addressing insecurity citing recruitment of more security officers, purchase of more police vehicles and scaling security surveillance with the yet to be launched closed circuit television cameras.

"We have increased funding to counties well above the minimum set in the Constitution. The issues about electoral reforms should be addressed through Parliament. So what is the referendum for?" the Taveta MP asked.

Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungwa said once Jubilee rolls out some strategies to sensitise Kenyans about what he claimed were CORD's "lies" they would realise the Opposition's agenda is not in the public's interest.

"It was in our manifesto that we allocate 40 per cent of the national revenue to counties," Duale said.