Intrigues behind Senate’s deal on funds for counties

Attempts by allies of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga to alter a deal struck on counties’ cash sharing formula ran into headwinds at the eleventh hour, the Saturday Standard has established.

On Thursday, senators finally arrived at a consensus on the third basis revenue sharing formula after governors threatened to shut down operations in devolved units.

Forty-one senators voted in support of the formula to end a three-month impasse that saw counties fail to get their monthly tranches for July, August and September.

Senators reached a win-win deal after capping the baseline from next year’s allocation of Sh370 billion equitable share among counties at Sh185 billion and the contentious square root on the land area parameter put at 8 per cent.

The 12-member mediation team tinkered with 10 parameters set by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) and reduced them to eight, ignoring the divisive formula by the Finance Committee backed by Uhuru and Raila.

This deal, the Saturday Standard learnt, was opposed by allies of the two leaders, bidding populous counties to get more allocation.

Efforts by Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio, his minority counterpart James Orengo, Finance Committee chair Charles Kibiru to forestall the deal, however, failed as the committee stood firm.

The deal was derived from proposals by Minority Leader Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni) and Johnstone Sakaja (Nairobi) capping the baseline at Sh316.5 billion, reducing the figure by half, to cushion counties from losing funds.

Surprise action

In solidarity, the mediation team co-chaired by Sakaja and Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) had until Monday next week to table a deal at the Speaker’s Kamukunji, before the same is tabled in the House the following day, but they pulled a first one, getting Uhuru and Raila allies off guard.

The members confided in the Saturday Standard that even Senator Susan Kihika who was away in Nakuru and her Narok counterpart Ledama Ole Kina joined their colleagues to dispense off the matter in record time.

“We had to wait for our colleagues who were away to join us and ensure all the 12 participated and appended their signatures in agreement. Before 1pm, the report was ready and Orengo, Poghisio, Kibiru and Muturi raised objections. It was fireworks but the committee could not budge,” disclosed a member aware of the intrigues.

“The leaders wanted the Sh370 billion subjected to the committee proposed formula in its entirety for five years, which could have occasioned huge losses. This included the controversial land square root. We reached a compromise, a give and take, to ensure no county loses,” said the senator.

As a result, all counties are set to get an increment instead of loss, the latter which could have been occasioned by both the CRA and finance committee proposals.

Uhuru/Raila allies opposed the formula, supporting their preferred choice where Mandera, Kwale, Wajir, Narok and Isiolo counties would have lost.

Sensing danger, the committee decided to share the signed report with members ahead of the tabling on the floor in the afternoon, which is not the usual norm, but to marshal support to scuttle plans of dissenting leaders. “The leadership was relaxed because we had until next week to table a deal as directed by Speaker Ken Lusaka. Going by the past antic to coerce members to vote in a certain way, stalling the process nine times, this was our last card to unlock the deadlock,” said a member of ‘Team Kenya’.

“We were done before 1pm and got everybody to sign the report. This got the leaders by surprise and that is when the drama began. We gave members so many copies.”

Senators Kilonzo Jnr, Sakaja, Ledama and Murkomen, were also on Twitter, talking about the deal and “white smoke” to pile pressure on dissenting leaders to accept it.

But Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata played down the so-called Team Kenya’s bravado: “Team Kenya had insisted a baseline of Sh316 billion (Sakaja); they went down to Sh273 billion (Senator Mithiki Linturi) and finally to Sh158 billion baseline, as per the wishes of Senate leadership. Hence it is a win-win formula,” stated Kangata.

He went on: “A formula that had stuck in the Senate for last two years! Finally, we have a deal that reflects “one man one shilling one vote “We are celebrating inside the chambers.”

Fought suggestion

“At one moment, it had been proposed Murang’a County should lose Sh15 million and we fought off the suggestion and finally Murang’a will gain Sh800 million,” he said.

Speaker Lusaka is reported to have stood his ground that the matter must be concluded without further delay, exhausting Orengo and Poghisio’s options to forestall the same. Sakaja moved the notice of motion to table the report and the Speaker gave a 20-minute timeout for a Kamukunji, which was vehemently opposed.

When it was convened, Senator Kilonzo Jnr walked out and his colleagues did the same, denying the leaders a chance to rally for changes. “If the speaker played along, we could not have resolved the stalemate,” affirmed another member.

“I want to thank the President because we’d gone for weeks without resolution. The authority and dignity of the Senate was being questioned,” said Orengo after the House passed both the formula and the County Allocation of Revenue Bill (CARB), 2020.

The Sh369.8 billion CARB, with a seven-day commencement period, now proceeds to the National Assembly for concurrence before it goes to the President for assent.