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Crisis looms in parliament on county billions

A five-hour meeting between National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and MPs on the disputed Division of Revenue Bill ended in a stalemate, as the Government told Parliament to resolve the issue today or risk derailing the Budget due next week.

Failure to reach an agreement at the Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting yesterday set the stage for a showdown in the National Assembly today, when the fate of the crucial bill that divides revenue between the national and county governments is decided.

MPs are breaking their recess for the third time within a fortnight for yet another special sitting in a bid to avert a Government shut-down but by yesterday evening, there was no sign of a compromise. Instead, the matter assumed partisan political scheming.

And Members of the National Assembly, who have rejected a Senate-driven proposal to increase allocation to counties by Sh3.3 billion, made it clear which parties will face cuts to finance the increment: Sh1 billion from the Senate; Sh1 billion from the Judiciary and Sh1.3 billion from the Executive.

With just 27 days left to the end of the financial year, panic-stricken top officials from the National Treasury yesterday trooped to the Budget and Appropriations Committee to explain the urgency of the Division of Revenue Act and why "there was no extra money somewhere" to increase the county allocation.

Also, members of the committee are plotting a comeback fight to deny senators the controversial Sh1 billion kitty approved less than three months ago because they appear stung by the Senate's insistence that the Sh283 billion for the counties should be increased by an extra Sh3.3 billion.

The Standard learnt Rotich and his principal secretary Kamau Thugge appeared worried that the MPs wanted to share out the national government revenues without a law determining the division between the two levels of government.

"What worries me is the law. We don't have a Division of Revenue Act in place yet, on what basis shall we be dividing the allocations between the ministries?" Rotich asked the MPs.

Rotich said that if both Houses do not work out a political deal, then it will be difficult for the National Treasury to even work out a budget. When he left the meeting after five hours of trying to convince the committee members, Rotich was still crestfallen about whether MPs will back him up or reject his plea.

"It's up to the committee, but our position is clear," Rotich told The Standard.

With the National Treasury on the tenterhooks, and the MPs in a foul mood for revenge against the Senate, the major political parties in the House were last evening trying to find a way to score political points out of the revenue politics.

"I am going to back more funds to counties. Counties require these monies to effectively discharge their duties to the people at the grassroots," Majority Leader Aden Duale said.

Members divided

After the five-hour marathon meeting in Nairobi's County Hall yesterday, the Budget and Appropriations Committee members came out divided along party lines. They insisted that the decision on whether the counties should get the extra cash for Level Five hospitals will now be settled by the numbers in the House.

"The final decision rests with the House," the chairman, Mutava Musyimi (Mbeere South), told The Standard after the meeting with Rotich, Thugge, the Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo and the Solicitor General Njee Muturi.

It is understood that Rotich told the MPs that the position of the National Treasury remained the same: There's no money.

"He said that if we increase the money, then we'll have to do reallocation in the share of the national government and give the money to the counties. That is how it is," an MP who attended the meeting told The Standard.

It is with that in mind that the MPs now plan to shoot down the Bill, unless their parties resolve otherwise.

A vocal Jubilee MP Moses ole Sakuda who sits in the committee said the consensus at the meeting was for the Budget Committee to insist that the Bill's version agreed in a close vote 4-2 with the six-member mediation committee should be dropped.

"We have to drop the Bill or else, if we are forced to adopt the mediated version, then we will take the Sh1 billion from the Senate; Sh1 billion from the Judiciary and Sh1.3 billion from the Executive. The senators have to know that the money had to come from somewhere," Sakuda, told The Standard after the meeting.

Mutava has been consistent, and so has the budget committee, that there will be no extra cash, unless the budgets for the National Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary are reworked.

With the seeming split in the ruling Jubilee coalition, Opposition MPs, who are already pushing for a referendum to increase the allocation to counties, spoke with near unanimity to back the quest for more money to the counties.

Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem) said it will be out of order for anyone to attempt to reject the mediation report.

"Both sides – the Senate and the National Assembly – chose their representatives to the mediation committee. If they agreed, it would be foolish to contradict them. We should support their decision. Shooting down the report will be faulty and not sensible," Midiwo told The Standard.

"You cannot appoint a team and not respect their wishes," he added.

ODM's election boss Junet Mohammed (Suna East), and the political affairs boss Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja) added that if the Sh3.3 billion that their colleague Tom Kajwang' (Ruaraka) had sided with the Senate to approve is rejected, then, they will oppose the bill.

"Any member who is committed and who believes in devolution must support more funds to counties. CORD supports devolution. We are going to rally behind this motion. Anybody going against the motion is an enemy to devolution," said Wandayi.

Council of Governors' Whip Ukuru Yattani (Marsabit) and Media and Communication Liaison chairman Governor Ken Lusaka (Bungoma) urged the legislators from the Senate and National Assembly to put their differences aside and instead push for the interest of Kenyans.

The governors noted that if the bill is defeated, the country will face a financial crisis, which can be easily avoided.

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