County chiefs struggle to settle in over stand-off in nominations

Governors Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu) and Meru's Kawira Mwangaza. [File, Standard]

Three months after taking over the helm of county governments, a section of governors are still struggling to settle in as they battle court cases and sharp criticism over appointments.

Some county chiefs eyeing second terms in office have found themselves in precarious positions as they seek to strike a balance that will not lead to a revolt in their first term.

Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika is yet to officially constitute her Cabinet following a court case challenging her appointment of 10 new county executive committee members (CECs).

Three ward representatives from the minority party, Jubilee, have been granted their prayers to be enjoined in a case filed by two residents last month.

The Employment and Labour Relations Court sitting in Nakuru has already issued orders stopping the vetting of nominees by the county assembly, which was the last step before they are sworn-in.

The petitioners, Dr Benjamin Magare and Daniel Kipngetich, whose case will be mentioned on November 15 are arguing that the appointments do not reflect the county’s ethnic and cultural diversity.

As a result, Governor Kihika has been forced to continue working with the CECs who served under the previous regime, all of whom she sent parking by virtue of appointing their replacements.

Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Kihika’s situation was further complicated after another petitioner - Michael Oduor - last Friday, November 11, obtained another court order stopping the vetting of 21 chief officer nominees citing what he termed as “great prejudice and injustice exhibited during the process of interviewing, recommending, and nomination of the chief officers.”

Judge David Nderitu of the Employment and Labour Relations stopped the vetting that was planned for tomorrow, Monday 14, at the county assembly.

The judge directed parties to appear in court on November 17, for further direction.

Justice Hellen Wasilwa on October 19 issued orders stopping vetting of the CECs. The orders were extended on October 31. 

And even before the dust in the corridors of justice could settle, a section of civil society and minority groups, who claim they were left out, are prosecuting the matter in the court of public opinion.

Speaking at a consultative meeting, members of the minority Ogiek community led by Joseph Sang decried that they had high hopes for appointments to the county government of Nakuru.

“Our population worked against us at the ballot. We missed nomination slots to Parliament, county assembly and list of nominees to the county executive. We feel ignored,” said Sang.

Ogiek Council of Elders chairman John Lobolo addresses the press during a pat event. [Daniel Chege, Standard]

Hopes for the community have been dimmed further after they were left out in the nomination of chief officers whose vetting by departmental committees is set to kick off tomorrow.

“The county government should look into the issues of minorities and incorporate them in governance systems for them to be part of decision-making bodies,” said Martin Lunalo.

Lunalo, an advocate of social accountability and inclusivity, said Kihika should consider communities left out the top of the executive in other positions, among them ward administrators.

Sandra Oyonde, a programmes manager at Haki Jamii, said the county government should be cognizant of the Public Participation Act and operationalise it through inclusivity in its structures.

“As civil society, we shall keep an eye on the county assembly and the Executive to ensure that the voice of minorities is heard and especially on matters that require public participation,” said Oyonde.

Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, who is serving his final term, has also suffered a similar setback after a resident, Otieno Oloo, filed a case challenging his nomination of 10 CECs.

Oloo cites failure to meet the two thirds gender rule and exclusion of special interest groups, among them persons living with disability, in the proposed cabinet.

“Out of 10 nominees, seven permanent and three in acting capacity, only one has been reserved for women,” the petition reads in part.

In Meru County, Governor Kawira Mwangaza is having it rough after the ward representatives rejected seven out of 10 nominees to her Executive.

Meru County Governor Kawira Mwangaza. [George Kaimenyi, Standard]

Those rejected on November 1 by the appointment committee are Dr George Gikunda Mungania (Health), Kiambi Atheru (Water, Environment and Natural Resources), Esther Karimi (Trade, Tourism, Investment and Cooperative), Casty Micheni (Youth, Sports, Gender and Social Development), James Murungi (Roads, Energy) and Public Works), Japhet Ithinji (Lands) and Caroline Karea (Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries).

The MCAs cited a lack of knowledge of administrative, as well as topical, and technical issues affecting their departments on the part of nominees. 

In Kericho, a stalemate between the Executive and the county assembly has ended up in court even after Governor Erick Mutai, hurriedly swore in 10 CEC nominees.

Last week, two orders suspending the swearing-in of Kericho County Secretary and Head of Public Service and 10 County Executive Committee Members (CECs), caused confusion.

The officials include Leonard Kipkoech, CEC Finance and Economic Planning, Daniel Kipkorir of Agriculture Management, Rosemary Rop, Water and Environment, Edina Tonui, Health, Lawrence Bii, Education, Judith Chepkorir, Information Youth and Gender, Brian Langat, Lands, Eng Eric Koech, Transport, Brenda Bill, Public Service, Bernard Bii, Trade and Dr Wesley Bor, Head of Public Service.

Justice Hellen Wasilwa suspended the swearing-in of the 11 county executives on November 2, pending the hearing and determination of an application that challenged it.

This is after Benard Rono, a human rights defender, filed the application challenging the swearing-in saying the process of appointment was flawed and unlawful.

Governor Erick Mutai. [File, Standard]

Rono sued governor Dr Mutai, the county government, the assembly and the speaker as the respondents and listed the 11 executives as interested parties in the case.

“A temporary order of injunction is issued restraining Kericho county assembly speaker from swearing in 11 executives,” ordered Ms Wasilwa.

She directed Rono to serve the order to all parties. The case will be heard on Wednesday.

However, even after the orders were issued, the eight executives were sworn in, save for the CEC Education, Trade and the County Secretary and Head of Public Service.

On Wednesday, the matter was placed before Justice David Nderitu of the Employment and Labour Court in Nakuru.

Rono’s lawyer Ezra Kiprotich informed the judge that despite serving the order, the speaker unlawfully swore in majority of the executive members.

Kipkoech Ng'etich, an advocate of the High Court, says the main challenge facing the governors was their campaign promises.

“These governors promised people positions in their governments but after taking office, they have realised it is not possible to honour all the promises,” said Ng'etich.

Some governors promised positions to individuals or by giving leaders such as MPs a freehand in some appointments in exchange for their support.

[Additional reporting by Julius Chepkwony, Daniel Chege and Nikko Tanui]