A planned meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Jubilee senators this morning could be the make-or-break moment for the contentious county revenue sharing formula that has been endorsed by his new-found ally Raila Odinga.
A meeting convened by Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata on Monday resolved to escalate the matter to the president’s desk— in what will be the last whipping of the Jubilee legislators to pass the formula whose adoption has aborted five times in the House.
Boosted by the Odinga statement, the Jubilee team led by Mr Kang’ata is convinced that President Kenyatta’s last-minute intervention will give the much-needed support to the formula that will guide the disbursement of funds to Kenya’s 47 devolved units.
Top on President Kenyatta’s task in the meeting is a push by senators, majority of them from his ruling Jubilee Party and led by former deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki and Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, who want to shoot down the formula, saying it is unfair as some devolved units will lose money.
The two lawmakers on Monday separately insisted that they had the backing of 29 senators—19 from the losing counties and 10 more from counties that will gain but are opposed to the formula, anyway— who they said were “still on course” to shoot down the formula.
“We have called this meeting to continue my efforts to build consensus on the third generation formula,” Mr Kang’ata told the Nation yesterday.
“We appreciate the bold statement by Raila on this matter. It moves the discussion forward. I do also celebrate other national leaders who have issued statements on the issue. That explains seriousness of the issue.”
Mr Kang’ata had caused a storm in the Kenyatta-Odinga alliance when he pegged the success or failure of their ‘handshake’ project, Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), on the passing of the formula that will see 19 counties lose a total of Sh19 billion that will be snapped by 28 remaining units— mostly from central Kenya, western and Rift Valley.
Deputy President William Ruto broke his silence on the formula, calling for a win-win situation, but refusing to state whether he backs the formula.
“The ongoing revenue formula debate is unnecessarily divisive,” Dr Ruto said on Twitter.
“The Constitution envisages fair and equitable sharing of all our resources. The Legislature must, as per its mandate, structure a win-win formula that is sensitive to proposals made without hurting any county. Inawezekana (It is possible).”
Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju said there is a need to adopt the new formula to address the serious per capita inequalities across the counties.
“There has been a serious disparity because why should all the money going to a certain county translate into a per capita allocation of say 40,000 per person while say in Kakamega, the per capita allocation is 16,000?” Mr Tuju posed.
He pointed out that there is no evidence that those counties whose per capita allocation is over Sh40,000 were getting better services than the areas where per capita allocation is Sh16,000.
He said counties must be ready to fight corruption in a bid to ensure the disbursed funds are put to proper use.
The Cabinet Secretary without portfolio also cautioned leaders to tread carefully on the BBI drive and avoid using it for blackmail.
“If BBI process is only owned by the President and former prime minister and the rest of Kenyans do not see the need and essence for BBI, so that they can play football and blackmail with it, then we are in a very unfortunate situation,” Mr Tuju said.
He went on: “BBI and this formula should not be linked and if anybody is trying to link them, one can only sympathise with their intellectual understanding of the depth of challenges we have in this country.”
Prof Kindiki, whose Tharaka-Nithi is one of the 19 counties — mostly in North Eastern and Coast— that will lose, said no formula should reduce the allocation made to any devolved unit.
A key Ruto ally, Prof Kindiki insisted that the debate on the formula should not be about “political personalities or tribes, but a principle founded on the objectives of devolution.”
“Tuesday (today) is the D-day for devolution,” Prof Kindiki said.
“We have lied to ourselves for far too long that we are for development all across Kenya. On the floor of the Senate, this is the day to bite the bullet and confront the ugly truth that we have been living a lie that we are a nation, one people.”
Added Prof Kindiki: “The principles of devolution never envisaged a situation where you reduce allocations to any county. You can increase, but never reduce. Passing of this formula as is means that if in the future you have an anti-devolution establishment, what is to stop them from concocting a formula that slashes county funds by half?”
Mr Sakaja, who is also opposed to the formula, said he has marshalled 30 senators, whom he will meet this morning to firm up the position to support an amendment he has made to the formula.
In the compromise, Mr Sakaja wants the 47 counties to receive the allocation made to them in the 2018/2019 financial year, with only the additional funds that were due to the devolved units subjected to the proposed formula.
“Devolution is not a favour to one part of the country. It's everyone's right. We cannot have a situation where a county loses 20, 30 per cent of its revenue because of a formula,” Mr Sakaja told the Nation.
He added: “My amendment will be on the order paper. The Constitution says the Senate will be resolution adopt a new formula. If they withdraw theirs again because of numbers, we will pass ours.”
But while Dr Ruto struck a conciliatory tone careful not to state whether he supports or opposes the formula, former Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, a key Ruto ally, called on President Kenyatta to convene a Parliamentary Group meeting to whip senators.
“I am actually surprised that on such a very important issue as county revenue allocation formula, the President has not convened Jubilee Party PG to give the members clear direction. It is increasingly becoming clear that Party PG is only useful in enforcing loyalty (whatever that means) and not being used to serve the interest of poor Kenyans who are struggling to earn a living,” Mr Murkomen said.
The lawmaker was referring to a recent purge in the ruling party that saw him and other allies of Dr Ruto kicked out of their lofty perches in both the National Assembly and the Senate.
The Elgeyo Marakwet senator turned down what he said was an offer by Mr Kang’ata to take the lead and use his links in the previous post to support the passing of the formula. “I am but a loyal backbencher ready to be led. I am waiting for our Party PG to meet and give us instructions. So far I am listening to both sides,” Mr Murkomen said, adding that he backs the use of people like Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, who chairs the BBI Steering Committee, to mediate between the warring sides.