A battle is looming between Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya and members of the county assembly who ostensibly want answers on matters of development.
The MCAs say they have summoned Mr Mvurya to brief them on the progress of all county projects since 2017.
But more crucial is the issue of remarks the governor made after the assembly scuttled his plans to allocate money to buy food for households hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mvurya was scheduled to meet the General Oversight Committee last Wednesday, but he requested for more time to prepare his brief.
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A seven-member committee headed by Deputy Speaker Andrew Mulei has been tasked to review the governor's letter and set another date for his grilling.
This latest fallout was triggered by the assembly’s decision to snub Mvurya’s request for a Sh160 million food kitty after a supplementary budget was passed.
Speaker Sammy Ruwa said the county assembly instead sought the opinion of experts who proposed that the money would be better spent on buying medical supplies to battle Covid-19.
“This saw the MCAs appropriate Sh130 million for medical supplies, including ventilators and drugs, as well as Sh25 million for the water department,” said Mr Ruwa, adding that the remaining Sh5 million was allocated to buy food for the vulnerable.
When his plan to feed nearly 500,000 residents was thrown into limbo, Mvurya accused the MCAs of refusing to help struggling residents. Ruwa fired back saying that food aid should not have been treated as an emergency.
A few of the MCAs later revealed that there were fears Mvurya would have used the food donations to influence voters’ decisions as the county prepares for the Msambweni by-election.
The seat fell vacant after the death of Suleiman Dori on March 9.
Mvurya is backing Finance and Economic Planning Executive Bakari Sebe for the seat on a Jubilee ticket. Bashir Kilalo, a Knut official, is also seeking the same ticket.
Former Bongwe Gombato MCA Omar Boga, Kwale ODM branch chairman Nicholas Zani and Feisal Badri will vie for the ODM ticket.
Observers believe controversy over the flopped food drive was sparked by Mvurya and Ruwa’s desire to flex their muscles ahead of the 2022 General Election.
Ruwa, however, denied influencing the MCAs to frustrate Mvurya for political gain. “Yes, I will be in the race in 2022. But I am an ex-officio member in the county assembly. I did not influence the decision on the food kitty. My role is basically that of a referee.”
This is not the first time Mvurya has faced off against ward reps, the majority who are in opposition party ODM.
GOING GETS ROUGH
When the going gets rough, he has a knack of going to the grassroots and presenting his case directly to locals.
Mvurya remains a popular governor even as he has to contend with what he describes as political machinations that originate in the neighbouring counties.
Away from the county assembly, he has also had run-ins with MPs. For a time, there was little love lost between the governor and Lungalunga MP Khatib Mwashetani, as well as the late Dori who had declared an interest in replacing Mvurya after his first term as governor.
Mvurya’s tactic is to avoid direct confrontation with his rivals as he concentrates on programmes that endear him to voters. But when campaigns kick off, he switches gears and exploits any weaknesses in his rivals.
This time round, things could get messy following claims that the MCAs may use their favourite weapon – impeachment – to settle scores.
When speaking as a group, they denied that an ouster motion was in the works. But speaking individually, they said they would stop at nothing to send the governor home. The latest summons, they added, were only the first bullet in the chamber.
They revealed that a list circulated in the assembly showed that 28 out of the 34 members were ‘dissatisfied’ with Mvurya’s conduct.
The ward reps also accused members of the executive of running a smear campaign by spearheading a crusade to collect signatures from residents in an attempt to have them recalled.
In 2015, some of the MCAs had threatened to impeach the governor over his decision to freeze the disbursement of Sh400 million ward bursary funds. The MCAs also accused the governor of presiding over a corrupt administration.
But the governor told them to amend the law that gave them powers to act as patrons of the fund.
Mvurya said that by making themselves ward bursary committee patrons, the MCAs had abdicated their oversight role on the utilisation of public funds and instead wanted to run the kitty.
"The issue has elicited a reaction from the Controller of Budget who has said it will be a conflict of interest. The Controller (of Budget) has advised against disbursing the kitty and we have no other option. The MCAs must change the law."
At the time, Ruwa had accused the county administration of spreading falsehoods against them and threatened to hold public rallies "to counter the executive’s drive to turn our people against us".
"It is so bad that after going round for public participation before passing laws, the governor says it is not good. What we want to tell the governor is that he must implement everything that we have passed. If not, we know what we will do to him,” threatened Ruwa.
But Mvurya, who had just decamped from ODM to Jubilee, triumphed after getting the backing of the Controller of Budget.
At the time, the standoff was blamed on the fact that Ruwa had set his sights on Mvurya's gubernatorial seat in the 2017 General Election.
Ruwa is an ally of Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, and Mvurya has always blamed any attacks against him on the county's ODM politicians.
Mvurya himself is an ally of embattled Deputy President William Ruto, which has seen him lose the support of some Jubilee MCAs in the assembly.
The governor did not help his cause by aligning himself with Jubilee in an area dominated by ODM especially in the wake of the Raila-Uhuru handshake.
The unity pact weakened the bargaining power of leaders allied to Ruto and emboldened those in the camp of Joho and the ODM party leader.
Political analyst Hassan Mwakimako said there is a possibility that Ruwa and the MCAs could have been influenced from outside the county to frustrate Mvurya and his deputy, Fatuma Achani, who hopes to succeed him in 2022.
Prof Mwakimako, however, said priority should be to fight the coronavirus disease and not food donations.
“The impeachment plot is unreasonable. But I do not agree that Sh160 million should be used to buy food while the biggest challenge is Covid-19. Food aid can easily be used to campaign for the deputy governor or influence voters in the forthcoming Msambweni by-election,” he argued.
Mvurya had also questioned why the county assembly had 'sat on' the supplementary budget from April 16 and only acted on June 3 when the financial year was about to end, saying this made it practically impossible to spend the money.
He also criticised the MCAs for allocating Sh6 million to buy medical drugs for Covid-19 "while they knew too well that there are no such drugs world over".
The assembly had approved Sh80 million to buy 10 ventilators for Msambweni Referral Hospital. The county executive, however, claimed the hospital already had 12 ventilators.
The MCAs also gave Sh14.9 million to buy two ventilators for Kwale and Kinango sub-county hospitals.
In his summons to the governor, Ruwa said his criticism of the MCAs’ appropriation of the Sh160 million suggested that they deliberately delayed a decision on the budget to frustrate the implementation of the food support programme proposed by the county executive.
"Mr Mvurya has viewed the decision as unilateral, malicious and impossible to implement and hence the county assembly did not act in the best interests of the residents," he said.
The speaker added: “The assembly deliberated on this issue at length and resolved to write to you and register its displeasure at the manner in which your administration seems to have facilitated a smear campaign against it. Further to this, the assembly is considering various remedial measures that need to be implemented to address this smear campaign. These will be communicated to you in due course."
Leader of Majority Raia Mkungu said the governor should have written a memo to the county assembly to express his dissatisfaction with the allocation of the Sh160 million supplementary budget instead of raising the matter in public.
"Instead of attacking us, the governor should have written back and expressed his displeasure. We simply did our work as an assembly,” said Mkungu.