Counties in arid regions, considered disadvantaged and therefore qualified for extra financing through the Equalisation Fund, have opposed plans to increase their number from the current 14 to a proposed 34.
Their opposition exposes the intricacies behind an ongoing battle for control of billions of shillings disbursed to disadvantaged counties through the Exchequer to cushion them and accelerate their development.
On Thursday, Deputy President William Ruto weighed in on the debate, pleading with the aggrieved counties not to move to court to fight the proposal.
This is after National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale said the regions originally targeted for the fund would move to court to challenge a decision by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) to increase the number of beneficiaries.
The Garissa Town MP, who termed the move unfair, said they will also seek redress at the Supreme Court.
"I am shocked to see some counties have been included to be part of the Arid and Semi Arid Lands (Asal) counties. I am disappointed with CRA who have expanded the list to 34. There is no way a village or a slum can be given a share of the funds," he said.
Mr Duale mentioned Kiambu, Meru, Nyeri and Tharaka Nithi to be among the new additions.
But Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi told off Mr Duale, saying they were not part of the conference by default but by design.
Mr Ruto asked the counties to engage the CRA in dialogue.
“I want to ask those with a different opinion to engage CRA and I am sure they are willing to take suggestion. We can have the matter addressed within the constitutional parameters. I do not think it is wise for anyone to go to court,” Mr Ruto said.
He said the government will make the resources available to improve the underdeveloped and marginalised counties.
Mr Ruto said the national government will continue to inject resources to the Asal counties.
He said Sh12.4 billion of the Equalisation Fund has been deposited, with Sh4.7 billion being included in the current budget.
“When we began devolution in the 2013, ASAL counties received Sh141 billion but by last year they had received Sh181 billion after we increased the share,” he said.
Following the review by CRA on government allocation, Mr Ruto said that all the 34 counties will benefit from the funds in the next three years.
Council of Governors chairman Josphat Nanok said the implementation of the Equalisation Fund is questionable.
He said that it is going to be a major challenge for basic needs of the Asal counties to be addressed if a proper implementation plan is not put in place.
“We should go by the government plan in its big four agenda and not allow individual counties to come up with their own plans,” he said.
He proposed that to enable Asal counties benefit from the fund without depending on the National Treasury, there is need to develop legislation or formation of an independent authority to implement it.
Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, who hosted the event, said lack of proper management of the fund has seen the counties fail to achieve the desired impact.
“The funds are supposed to fund basic needs but we have seen cases of the government putting up project at the same place where the county has implemented the same resulting to lose of focus,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Ruto called upon the leaders to use the conference as an avenue to shape the present and future.
He said the one million acres Galana Kulalu Irrigation project in Kilifi and Tana River counties is a perfect example how irrigation farming in Asal regions can help the government achieve the development agenda.
The Deputy President said Mwache Dam in Kwale and Sh42 billion Thwake Dam in Makueni and Kitui are some of the projects the government is undertaking to improve the counties.
“The national government will contribute Sh500 million and the EU Sh350 million to assist Asal counties,” he said.
He revealed that the government conflicted with Uganda during planning for the oil pipeline route, which was changed to Lamu-Isiolo-Moyale route in order to develop marginalised regions.