Allegations of corruption dominated the first Embu gubernatorial candidates’ debate, with three hopefuls using it to attack Governor Martin Wambora’s administration.
The debate coincided with an ongoing corruption probe by Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) into 12 tenders awarded by the county government, which provided fodder for the candidates eager to unseat Governor Wambora.
Mr Kithinji Kiragu of PNU, Narc Kenya’s Leonard Muriuki and Dr Njagi Kumantha of DP said the county is heading in the wrong direction and there was need for a change.
Though allegations of corruption have earlier been levelled against Mr Wambora’s administration, it is the first time that several leaders were addressing them in a campaign forum.
Mr Wambora, on his part, has always defended himself over the issue, terming the allegations as witch-hunt, as nothing has been proved in a court of law.
The governor however skipped the debate alongside Senator Lenny Kivuti (Maendeleo Chap Chap) and former PS Cyrus Njiru - an independent candidate.
In previous interviews, Mr Wambora also defended his development record, saying the development kitty received only 40 per cent of the revenue from Treasury and other internal sources, due to a huge wage bill that weighs down the county.
“Sixty per cent of the about Sh20 billion received over the years went to recurrent budget owing to the high number of workforce my government inherited from the defunct local authorities.
“The remaining 40 per cent goes to development and operations including stocking medical supplies, and office and vehicle maintenance, among others,” he said.
Mr Wambora blamed stringent rules that barred him from firing the workforce from the defunct local authorities and devolved staff from the former Eastern province, which was headquartered in Embu.
But speaking during the debate at University of Embu, the three claimed that the county had at one point been ranked among the most corrupt, saying the vice was affecting development.
Citing revelations that EACC sleuths were investigating “allegations of embezzlement of funds by the county officials” in award of 12 tenders at the county government, Mr Kiragu said the county risked being shunned by private investors and the donor community.
“It is timely EACC camped in Embu so it can unearth the vice.
"Two years ago, the county was identified as second in corruption. We thought things would improve but have gone from bad to worse. They are actually catastrophic,” he said.
Mr Kiragu, who has worked as a consultant with the World Bank, said the county could miss out on a Sh300 billion project targeting counties that were corruption-free, to improve road network in various towns.
“Only counties that show good governance and exhibit accountability and transparency in managing finances will get the money.
"If a county can’t get a clean audit report, it can’t access that money," he said.
"If Embu is on the current trend of corruption, it will miss out. That is the tragedy of corruption for our counties.”
However, Mr Wambora says he has managed the finances prudently and earned accolades from international agencies, which agree to partner with his government to set up various projects, citing storm water drainage worth Sh280 million funded by the World Bank.
Mr Muriuki, who eyes the youth vote, said he would arrest and charge corrupt county officials if he was elected governor.
“It is good that EACC has showed us the true picture of things happening in the county.
"Only a select group of individuals are getting tenders and the Embu residents have never benefited from devolution.
"This has been a government of pyramid schemes. Only a foolish person can elect it,” he said.
Mr Kiragu cited the controversial Embu-Kibugu road built using Probase technology, which cost over Sh40 million per kilometre, saying a better one would have cost Sh18 million.
He said the county would lose money since the road had also been earmarked for tarmacking by the national government as part of the 100-kilometre ring road promised by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Dr Kumantha criticised the decision to borrow money for the road saying the debt would weigh down residents.
“It doesn’t make economic sense to borrow money for a project that the national government is ready to fund.
"The county doesn’t have the kind of money to fund such projects,” he said.
Mr Kiragu also accused Senator Kivuti of condoning corruption by failing to exercise his oversight mandate.