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Daggers drawn as senators seek final revenue solution

By Roselyne Obala and Moses Nyamori | September 13th 2020

Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka presides over a session. The House leadership has been blamed for the revenue impasse. [File, Standard]

It is down to the wire this Tuesday as senators seek, for the 10th time, to resolve the stalemate on revenue allocation formula in the counties.

Positions appear to be hardening ahead of tomorrow’s kamukinji (informal meeting) convened by Speaker Ken Lusaka on the crucial vote. “Team Kenya” has marshalled 27 senators against the 20 backing the formula that has the president’s approval.

This comes after a retreat announced by the speaker last Tuesday between the House leadership and the 12-member mediation committee aborted. The meeting was set to lay the ground for tomorrow’s kamukunji meant to unlock the standoff on the five-year third basis generation formula, which has delayed over failure by the senators to strike a deal.

Senators are also pointing an accusing finger at the Executive for creating an artificial crisis in the counties by declining to disburse 50 per cent of the allocation to counties in a bid to ‘box’ them into submission and pass the divisive formula in a haste.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani declined to disburse 50 per cent of the Sh316.5 billion to counties without a corresponding law. Team Kenya has now vowed to ensure a vote is taken on Tuesday, and the County Allocation of Revenue Bill (CARB) is considered on Thursday to dismantle the cash crunch.

Two options

The speaker convened the meeting after the committee co-chaired by Senators Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi) and Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) tabled a report with two options instead of one.

“There was no meeting. I don’t know what the leadership decided,” said Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, a member of the mediation committee.

Fellow committee members, Senators Sakaja, Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni) and Susan Kihika (Nakuru) also confirmed the meeting did not take place. Kihika yesterday stressed the importance of reaching a consensus on the formula vote, which has failed eight trials.

“To this extent, we should let the majority have their way. A precedent was set in 2016; I do not understand where Mr Yatani is getting his powers from to decline to disburse the 50 per cent to counties. I read mischief,” Kihika said. “There could be a ploy to force the Senate to pass the formula without consensus.”

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, who supports the government position, told Yatani to come clean and say Treasury has no funds because this is not the first time it is coming up with excuses to delay disbursements.

“Treasury always delays release of funds to counties with the excuse of challenges with the Integrated Financial Management Information System or ongoing court case. Governors should channel their energies at compelling the ministry to release funds,” Cherargei said.

Wetang’ula revealed that the differences among committee members was narrowing, and soon senators will cede ground and not negotiate on the same position.

“I believe it is something achievable when we accept that it is equity and not equality. Equity is the centre piece of our 2010 Constitution,” Wetang’ula said.

The Sunday Standard has reliably learnt that Team Kenya, led by young senators, has reaped big by winning two more colleagues, who will be part of today’s strategy meeting. The prolonged impasse on the third basis generation formula is being attributed to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga’s stand on the matter.

This could be witnessed in Minority Leader James Orengo’s outburst in the Senate after his side lost 25 to 20 to Meru Senator Mithiki Linturi’s formula, which sought to cap the baseline at Sh270 billion while the balance is subjected to the CRA formula. Orengo said Uhuru was inaccessible.

He noted that if the president had given guidance, the government side would not be where it is now. The House leadership led by the speaker, Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio, Orengo and Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata failed to secure a meeting with the Head of State.

The 12-member mediation committee composed of representatives from both ‘Team Kenya’ and those for the State have been unable to agree on one formula. Those for the “One shilling, one vote, one man’ formula are yet to get the green light from their masters.

“The challenge is leadership. The House leadership has been badly exposed. Every Tuesday they request for time to consult yet they never call members for any meeting,” Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot said.

Cheruiyot, an ally of Deputy President William Ruto who has backed Linturi’s formula, challenged the leaders to stand up and take a position. “The leadership suffers a legitimacy crisis. It is beholden to forces outside parliament who are the engineers of the current stalemate,” he said.

President Kenyatta and Raila are on record urging senators to support the CRA proposed formula, which has been amended by the Finance committee. Sakaja said  ‘Team Kenya” will meet today to take a solid position on the matter.

“Whichever way, we must vote on the formula on Tuesday. The report had two options; let the members decide on one,” he said. “The leadership move to amend the Public Finance and Management Act and the Supreme Court opinion to disburse 50 per cent is not the solution. We didn’t meet on Thursday as directed by the speaker.”

Moribund CoG

He noted that their colleagues representing government could not negotiate a deal because they still need an okay, which is not forthcoming. Cherargei, who supports the Finance committee report where Nandi stands to gain Sh1.4 billion, has dared the Sakaja team to bring the vote on.

“Our colleagues claiming counties are losing and want the freeze of population and poverty index are not being honest. They have constantly requested for consensus and lack the numbers. We will pass the vote in record time,” said Cherargei.

He also took a swipe at governors, who he accused of plunging the country into the current crisis after accepting Sh316.5 billion as opposed to CRA’s proposal of Sh335 billion. “They accepted the funds with their tails between their legs. Now they are threatening to shut down counties yet there is a circular by the Cabinet secretary on the 50 per cent transfer to counties as per the Supreme Court ruling; why can’t they pursue that,” he questioned.

Sakaja also noted, “This is the poorest Council of Governors (CoG) leadership we have had since the inception of devolution.”

CoG chair Wycliffe Oparanya warned that failure to pass the formula and CARB before 17th of this month will see counties grind to a halt since they have not received monthly tranches for the new financial year.

Wetang’ula and Kihika also agreed, saying the current crisis was created by the Executive.

“CoG should not intimidate the Senate. This CoG is the most incompetent. The council should understand that the law is very clear that services should not halt,” said Kihika.

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