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Senate fights off extortion claims by governors in infrastructure projects probe

By Josphat Thiongó | October 27th 2021

A senatorial committee questions a Nairobi County Government team.  [File, Standard]

Senators and governors are once again at loggerheads over a probe on multi-billion shillings infrastructure projects in counties.

Senate will appeal a court order barring the Transport Committee from grilling governors in regard to counties' revenue allocation by the national government and conditional allocations.

The bone of contention is expenditure of the Sh9 billion World Bank – Kenya Urban Support Programme, the Equitable share from the national government and the Sh17 billion Roads Maintenance Levy Fund (RMLF) by counties that has seen governors obtain an injunction against the Senate to investigate the same.

High Court Judge Hedwig Ong’udi ruled in favour of the Council of Governors (CoG) in the case against the Senate, on alleged violation and infringement of the Constitution in regard to the County Government Act, the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act to probe the county chiefs.

Governors filed the case under certificate of urgency, through CoG counsel Peter Wanyama.

On October 22, the judge restrained the Senate from inquiring into the expenditure of the counties contained in the Auditor General Nancy Gathungu reports.

The Senate was expected to file a response by close of business today. The Inter-parties hearing will be conducted tomorrow [Thursday] virtually before Justice Antony Mrima.

“Conservatory orders be issued restraining the Senate from considering the report of the Auditor General on for Roads Maintenance Levy Fund (RMLF) in the financial years 2018/2019, 2019/2020 and the World Bank –Kenya Urban Support Programme for the financial years 2018/2019 and 2019/2020,” read the order in part.

Senate Majority Whip and Transport committee chairman Kimani Wamatangi (Kiambu) said: “We are going to court on Thursday to set the record straight. The governors misled the court that inquiry is on the audit reports, this is not the case. We are mandated to oversight all funds towards roads and infrastructure development in counties."

Mr Wamatangi said the checks by the County Public Accounts and Investment Committee is not enough.

Today Wanyama wrote to the Senate through Clerk Jeremiah Nyegenye, protesting what he termed alleged “extortionist behaviour” and threats from the Transport Committee.

He said he will institute contempt of court proceedings against the Clerk of the Senate, and Wamatangi and the other members of the Standing Committee on Roads and Transportation should they violate the court order.

“Please note that the High Court has issued injunctive orders to stop the Senate, especially the committee on roads and transport from considering the Audit Report from the Road Maintenance Levy Fund for the financial year 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 and that of the Word Bank Kenya Urban Support Programme for the financial years 2018/2019 to 2020/2021—fundamentally for want of jurisdiction,” read the letter in part.

The letter was copied to Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai and acting CoG CEO Mary Mwiti.

“In this regard, the Senate cannot issue summons to governors on the matter in dispute and should urgently recall the summons already issued. We have been firmly instructed to institute contempt of court proceedings against the Clerk of the Senate, Hon Paul Wamatangi and the other members of the Standing Committee on Roads and Transportation if the Senate fails to comply with the Court Orders and acts rogue,” it added.

The lawyer said CoG was concerned by the continued summons by the Wamatangi-led committee despite the matter having been heavily considered by the Senates' Public Accounts Committee.

Through the letter, he questioned why the Kiambu senator was pushing the matter to be considered by his committee yet he had the powers to sit in and participate in the deliberations of the Senates' Public Accounts Committee.

“Therefore, our client reads bad faith and ill-motive in the summons, for reason, our client has instructed us to specifically request that you ask Paul Wamatangi to stop making contacts with Governors and threatening them with the summons if they don't honour his extortionist financial demands,” stated Wanyama.

“Governors have a constitutional obligation to protect public funds and will not fall for Hon. Wamatangi's underhand requests and unlawful summons,” he added.

But the senator accused governors of trying to shield themselves from the accountability of Sh400 billion through restraining orders and hiding behind CoG.

“The biggest outcry across the country if you go to the counties is stalled or ghost construction projects, especially roads and markets among others. The governors do not want to be audited,” said Wamatangi.

He further opined that the order was obtained to disrupt or delay the inquiry by the Senate. The senator claimed that governors do not want to be held accountable for the funds appropriated to counties since 2013.

"The county budgets factor these expenditures. World Bank has complained over failure to report and accounts for the expenditure and governors do not want the necessary oversight. Most of the pending Bills in counties about these expenditures,” he said.

Wamatangi disclosed that the governors moved to court after their attempt to seek Speaker Ken Lusaka’s interventions to bar the committee from probing them flopped.

“They have been seeking to defer these meetings forcing us to issue summons as provided for in Article 125 of the Constitution. We came up with a schedule and even published in the local dailies yet they have disobeyed the same,” said the senator.

“They want to leave a trail of unchecked expenditures, especially for the second term governors exiting. We are inviting individual governors not CoG as counties are receiving close to Sh100 billion yearly for these projects,” he said.

When contacted Speaker Lusaka indicated that he is out of the country but his office would address the matter.

This is not the first time governors have attempted to block the Senate from probing them, insisting that this is the work of MCAs.

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