How fight for ward fund has put a damper on Governor Kawira's feat

A commoner was taking charge of the agriculturally-rich county after rising against great odds stacked against her, and people came to Kinoru Stadium in droves to be part of the historic event.

Almost all MPs and MCAs attended the inauguration as her win was welcomed by all, including Mithika Linturi, one of her opponents for the seat.

The only notable name that missed the big ceremony was outgoing Governor Kiraitu who had emerged third in the race.

Before the election, Kawira had made a name as an unpretentious resident, mixing with all and sundry, even removing jiggers from the feet of those afflicted and donating basic items to the most vulnerable in the villages.

So when she took charge as the new governor, expectations were high that she would deliver, having been with the rural masses and seen their needs.

But the excitement and high expectations soon dissolved into acrimony as residents were treated to a tug of war between the governor and MCAs, led by County Assembly Speaker Ayub Bundi.

Several issues stood out as the source of the differences, which left a sour taste in the mouths of the electorate as it degenerated into a fully fledged conflict.

The Ward Development Fund, or Ward Community Development Projects as MCAs called it, was one of the major issues of contention.

The ward reps said they wanted the governor to set up the fund and make allocations for the implementation of projects pledged to voters.

Kawira told them there would not be any Ward Development Fund because it would be illegal.

But she told them they were free to give her the list of priority development projects they wanted her administration to fund.

The governor said they were at liberty to state the projects they wanted to be funded by the Executive, just as residents in the wards were doing in the public participation forums she was convening at the grassroots.

The differences boiled over on October 19 when Kawira arrived at the County Assembly for her inaugural address to MCAs.

The legislators walked out on her, claiming she had disrespected them.

Supporters of the governor and those of the MCAs hurled projectiles at one another and police had to lob teargas canisters to disperse the mobs.

The MCAs had also protested the appointment of the governor's husband, Baichu Murega, as Meru Youth Service (MYS) Patron and 'Hustlers Ambassador'.

Murega said he was not being paid by the county government; that his services would be rendered pro bono.

"When the governor gave me the assignment as patron of MYS, it means I will be donating my resources to facilitate the MYS to achieve its goals. The MYS is meant to uplift the youth through the implementation of the MYS Act," he said.

The MCAs would hear none of that.

During Kiraitu's administration, he allocated Sh20 million per ward for development projects for two years and Sh10 million for the rest of the period.

Mr Bundi led the MCAs in demanding that Kawira set up an equitable fund that will see each of the 45 wards receive a specific allocation.

"Because if there is no equalisation fund and the governor is not happy with an MCA or she feels this area did not vote for me, or this area will not vote for me in 2027, then she may decide to concentrate all her development project activities in a given area," said Bundi.

Both Bundi and Kawira separately wrote to Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang'o, asking for her advice on the fund for the wards.

They emerged from a meeting with Nyakang'o with different feelings.

Kawira said: "The meeting resolved as follows; there will be no Ward Development Fund as was demanded by MCAs because their demand is not anchored in any law. Both Executive and County Assembly need to work together but with each arm sticking to its mandate and functions."

She said the Executive was mandated to come up with regional balanced projects (per ward) through public participation.

"MCAs can participate in this public participation as members of respective communities and should not dictate what projects to be included on the list. The Office of the Controller of Budget will do a report on the discussions and submit the report to both parties for implementation," said the governor.

Bundi, however, told residents not to blame MCAs if they were not able to deliver the projects they pledged.

He said under the guidance of Dr Nyakang'o it was resolved that all the ward projects "belonged" to the governor.

"So now we (MCAs) are going to tell residents they should not demand projects from MCAs but the governor. The governor told us to perform our oversight role in the assembly. Our job will be at the assembly, not anything else," Bundi said.

He said they had not proposed any bare minimum.

"The CoB was in agreement that there is need for a ward development community projects but the governor did not want to commit herself to the amount of money she would use in any ward. She should be telling members what they (wards) will get," Bundi, a two-term MCA for Abothoguchi Central Ward, said.

The differences have widened since then, culminating in an impeachment motion in which 67 out of 69 MCAs voted to remove the governor from office.

The motion is now before the Senate, which is expected to either ratify or reject it.

As 2023 beacons, it remains to be seen if the Senate will save the embattled governor and give her a chance to prove herself yet again.