President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday started a two-day meeting with 31 of the 47 governors at the Sagana State Lodge in Nyeri with a promise to keep the fruits of devolution flowing to the grassroots.
On the agenda of the high-level talks is the thorny question of managing public finance including grants for counties, the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis), which governors have been complaining has been inefficient, and the achievements made under devolution, which was introduced in the country after the 2013 election.
In his opening remarks, President Kenyatta said devolution had been a success.
“The system has its challenges, but which healthy young child does not have some bruises to show?” he asked. “We want to bring devolution, that healthy young child, to a mature and prosperous adulthood. We all know it requires patience and wisdom.”
The major bone of contention between the National Government and devolved administrations was billed to be the debate on devolving of road construction, transfer of money from the National Treasury to counties, and the management of the health services, particularly guidelines on free maternity care and the equipping of hospitals.
“In the past, development came from the national government alone. Now, we have devolution, so that each of us, however far from the capital Nairobi we may live, has a say in development,” President Kenyatta told the governors.
In the past, the county bosses have complained that Ifmis — the system used to transfer money from the Treasury — had its challenges, which ended up delaying payments and hence projects of the counties.
Healthcare has remained a controversial with health professionals claiming that counties were mismanaging it.
The President gave the clearest indication yet that the push to devolve even more services to the grassroots was unstoppable.
“We are here in Sagana to make certain that Nyeri, as well as every county in the country, enjoys the full promise of devolution. And that means development driven by decisions made at the grassroots,” he said.
The meeting with the governors, also known as The Summit, was attended by a national government team that included Deputy President William Ruto and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri on the one side, and 31 governors on the other. Sixteen governors were “absent with apologies”, according to the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit.
Meru Governor Peter Munya — who is also the chairman of the Council of Governors — said he expected discussions on finances, including conditional grants such as funding for free maternity, as well as sharing of road construction and rehabilitation.
As the governors and senior State officials trooped into the Sagana State Lodge, MPs and senators were conspicuously missing from the leaders lined up to receive the President.
State House had earlier announced that Wednesday’s meeting was strictly for governors and was not a political event.
The theme of the talks is to celebrate the successes and challenges of devolution and it is constitutionally required that the Summit convenes at least once a year.
When he arrived at Sagana, the President was received by local administrators led by the Regional Coordinator, Mr Naftali Mungathia, Nyeri County Assembly Speaker David Mugo, Deputy Governor Samuel Wamathai and County Secretary Alice Wachira.
No MP, governor or MCA was present. However, what the event lacked in political theatrics, it compensated with a display of power, opulence and curiously, a show of austerity.
The opulence came in the lavish display of a wide range of four-wheel-drive vehicles that have come to be associated with governors, while the show of austerity was dramatised by Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong, who arrived at the venue in a Probox.
Police manning the gate at first refused to let him in but after he identified himself, he was allowed into the sanctums of power.
“The bottom line is that I got to the meeting,” Mr Ojaamong told journalists outside the State Lodge gate.
Squatters from Iruri village also gathered outside the gate waiting to give the President a petition on their resettlement. Form One students armed with admission letters to various high schools were also there to ask for bursaries.
One of them, Catherine Nyamiru, said she had been admitted at Tumu Tumu Girls but could not raise fees.
“I came here in the hope that I will get an audience. I have tried to get help in all offices but I have not succeeded,” she said
Acting County Secretary Alice Wachira told the Nation that Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua, who was not among the governors present, had travelled for a “routine medical review”.
“In his absence, and through consultation as may be necessary, the deputy governor is taking charge of the county and will represent the governor in all official functions,” she said.
Some of the MPs who spoke to the Nation said leaders from the county met in Nairobi on Wednesday to discuss the President’s visit.
They then met the President’s Chief of Staff, Mr Joseph Kinyua, where they outlined the issues affecting the region and were briefed on plans that the government has for the county.