The 2022 succession and the ‘handshake’ politics loom large over the Senate as it meets tomorrow to thrash out an agreeable formula for revenue sharing among counties. At stake is how to share Sh316 billion across the 47 counties.
Concerns that Deputy President William Ruto and his allies could exploit the disaffection of the political leaders of the historically marginalised counties with the formula to draw them to his camp ahead of the 2022 elections will be weighing heavily on the Senate.
Besides what the Deputy President might be thinking is the dilemma for President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on how to balance the argument that the formula takes away resources from the historically marginalised counties while giving the well-endowed and highly populated counties more money, and keeping to the recommendations of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) to increase the resources to the counties by at least 35 per cent.
The President’s central Kenya backyard, which has been complaining about the current revenue allocation formula as biased, are pushing for the adoption of the proposed formula, adding to the President’s headache.
President Kenyatta had on Thursday given Senate Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio three days to resolve the standoff on the formula. At State House when he assented to six pieces of legislation, the President was reportedly not happy with the failure of the Senate to end the impasse. It was after the State House meeting on Thursday that Mr Poghisio started mobilising senators to sign up in support of having a special Senate sitting on Monday.
Amid the political concerns, the Sunday Nation has learnt of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to introduce amendments, including for instance retaining the parameters as proposed by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) while setting aside 15 per cent of the equitable share to cushion the counties that will be negatively affected by the adoption of the new formula.
Narok Senator Ledama Olekina, who has made the proposal, has been meeting with Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata as they explore possible compromise areas to appease the frontier counties including those at the Coast and northern Kenya.
Ahead of the Monday special sitting of the Senate, political leaders from the north eastern counties who are opposed to the formula proposed by the CRA have already warned that together with other expansive arid and semi-arid (Asal) counties, they will rethink their support for the Building Bridges Initiative and the proposed referendum if their concerns over the formula are not addressed.
“If this discriminatory formula is implemented, leaders from these 18 counties will find it difficult to convince the public to support important government agendas such as BBI and the referendum because it will be hard to tell the people that the same government that reduced their revenues is the same government that is asking for their support of its critical agendas,” they said.
Surprisingly, among those who endorsed the statement is Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, who chairs the BBI committee that has been working on proposed constitutional, legislative, policy and administrative reforms.
The statement was signed by governors Ali Korane (Garissa), Mohamed Abdi (Wajir), Mohamud Ali (Marsabit), and Ali Roba (Mandera), as well as senators Haji (Garissa), Farhiya Haji Ali (nominated), Dr Ali Ibrahim (Wajir) and Hargura Godana.
The north-eastern counties are banking on the support of a number of counties at the Coast, lower eastern, and other pastoralist regions, which historically have been marginalised. Those marginalised include eight that are Muslim-dominated.
Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo has also hinted at regions currently supporting the President and Mr Odinga changing political course if the formula is passed as it is.
“Let it be known here and now that if there is going to be any political falling-out, it will be because of our failure to agree on how to share resources, mainly financial,” he said.
The special sitting of the Senate will take place two days before the National Assembly also holds a similar sitting to consider, among others, the formula and County Allocation of Revenue Bill, 2020, both as passed by the Senate.
Senate Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Junior told the Sunday Nation that the special sitting is expected to be preceded by a senators’ Kamukunji (informal meeting) where they hope to thrash out any contentious issues before the formal sitting.
The special meeting was gazetted on Friday evening after frantic efforts by the Senate leaders to get the support of senators.
“It was a challenge. Most people wanted a Kamkunji first,” Senator Kilonzo said.
Article 217 (1) of the constitution mandates the Senate to determine the basis for allocating resources among the counties the share of national revenue once every five years.
Without the third basis formula, the Sh316 billion allocated to counties in 2020/21 financial year as equitable shareable revenue can’t be shared from July 1, as it will be unconstitutional.
The proposed formula has adopted a sector-specific funding approach and it places focus on the performance and pressure of the population on specific sectors, fiscal discipline and accountability and revenue performance.
The health sector has been assigned a weight of 15 per cent. The commission combined the uninsured, inpatient and outpatient parameters to come up with the index. In the agriculture sector, it calculated the total number of rural households and their extension services and food security needs to determine the proposed 10 per cent weight.
Population has been weighted 18 per cent from 45 per cent in the current formula while poverty has a weight of 14 per cent from the current 18 per cent.
For the Asal counties, giving prominence to population and relegating land will disadvantage them while the relatively small but heavily populated counties benefit at their expense. The northern Kenya political leaders, for instance, argue that the eight Muslim counties – Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Tana River, Garissa, Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi - stand to lose over Sh11.3 billion if the new formula is adopted.
“Any formula that reduces allocation to counties should not be allowed without cushioning those that are negatively impacted by the new formula. Besides the timing is very wrong because of the economic difficulties within the counties as a result of Covid-19 pandemic,” the north eastern region political leaders said.
For Mr Poghisio, the choices he has are tough. As West Pokot senator, his county could be among those to be negatively impacted by the formula yet he still has to support government business in the Senate.
Kirinyaga Senator Charles Kibiru, who chairs the Senate Finance and Budget Committee, however says that the proposed formula has come to correct the revenue-sharing anomalies that existed since the advent of devolution seven years ago.
“We have people who have enjoyed some advantage over the rest of the country for the last seven years but we are now trying to normalise the situation. With this formula, we are trying to minimise the per capita gap that has existed. There is no formula that will make everybody happy,” he told the Sunday Nation.
But he acknowledged that it is not possible to ignore the BBI and 2022 political undertones from the debate on the formula.
“There is a lot of lobbying for and against the formula. There could be amendments,” he said.
For Senator Kilonzo, BBI and 2022 succession politics have influence on the Monday special sitting.
“How will Raila, for example, explain to his supporters in the Coast region why they should lose resources while other ODM strongholds gain and still expect to retain their loyalty?” posed Mr Kilonzo.
Since the advent of devolution, the formula for sharing revenue among counties has always remained heavily contested. For instance, in 2016, Kiambu Senator Kimani Wamatangi challenged the current formula in court, alleging it was discriminatory but lost the case at the constitutional court.