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Governors rattled as courts push three of their own out of office

Friday December 13 2019
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Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko at the Milimani Anti-Corruption Court on December 9, 2019 where he was charged with graft-related offences. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By VINCENT ACHUKA
By COLLINS OMULO

Anxiety has gripped governors following the precedent set by the courts this week by barring Mike Sonko, a third sitting county boss, from accessing his office as a condition for getting bail after being charged over corruption.

The Wednesday ruling threw Nairobi County in a paralysis as Governor Sonko began life in the cold, which left officials in the dark on how to steer the capital without a substantive leader in charge.

The Council of Governors (CoG) was on Friday held up in a day-long crisis meeting to discuss the situation in Nairobi after their quest to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta over the matter failed.

The President spent the whole day in Garissa where he commissioned a 50MW solar power plant.

Governors are now fearing that some State elements could take advantage of the template set in Mr Sonko, his Kiambu counterpart Ferdinand Waititu and Samburu Governor Moses Lenolkulal’s cases and kick whoever they want out of office because all you need is to present someone in court.

At least nine governors are currently under investigations by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) on suspicion of engaging in corrupt practices.

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SUSPICIOUS RULINGS

These are Granton Samboja of Taita Taveta, Okoth Obado (Migori), Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo Marakwet), Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi), Mwangi wa Iria (Muranga), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and Mohamud Ali (Marsabit).

A governor who attended the meeting told Nation that they are concerned and they will issue a statement on Monday.

“We have noted that the rulings in the cases touching on the three governors currently in the cold, that is Sonko, Waititu and the Samburu one (Lenolkulal) have peculiar similarities, especially the bond terms. The rulings are very consistent. We will again meet on Monday and issue a major statement,” said the governor.

“We also took note that there are several cases already before the courts over the question of governors being barred from accessing office. We will wait for the courts to rule on the cases before we take a position,” said the governor.

Mr Sonko has already said he will stick to the court’s decision. “I am home now and continuing with my treatment after posting bail through the assistance of my supporters, friends and family,” said Mr Sonko in a statement released on Jamhuri Day.

“As I have always said, I am a law-abiding citizen, hence shall comply with the court's decision that I stay away from my office to let justice take its course,” he said.

SONKO'S APPROVAL

The governor, who was told by the court that he can only access his office in the company of investigating officers, has shifted his operational base to his private offices and residences, specifically in Upper Hill.

The city boss was conspicuously missing from the 56th Jamhuri Day celebrations held at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi on Thursday.

This was a marked departure from the past two years when he attended such functions as the governor of Nairobi.

However, before the celebrations kicked off, he took to social media to wish Kenyans a happy Jamhuri Day, tweeting: “I am happy to join the rest of Kenyans in marking the 56th Jamhuri Day celebrations. To all Nairobi residents and Kenyans at large, I wish you all a happy Jamhuri Day,” he said.

But even as Mr Sonko begins staying out of office, there is fear that his absence will paralyse operations due to his stranglehold of the county, as almost every action and decision has to be approved by him.

The county has for the past two years operated without a deputy.

The Finance executive member and chief officer are signatories to county accounts but those two positions are now occupied by officers in acting capacities.

PENDING BILLS

Lands executive Pauline Kahiga is the acting Finance executive while Joseph Akong’o is the acting Finance chief officer.

Nairobi is also among some 20 counties which Treasury said last month it will not disburse funds to as they had not made efforts to clear pending bills.

Among his final duties as governor before he was dramatically arrested on Friday last week, Mr Sonko told Senate that he will only pay legitimate bills despite pressure from Treasury.

Without a governor in office or deputy, it will be interesting to see how the deadlock over disbursement of funds by Treasury to Nairobi as the festive season fast approaches unravels.

Last evening, members of the county assembly (MCAs) received text messages from Minority Whip Peter Imwatok and Majority Whip John Ndegwa for a meeting at county hall.

The meeting, which is set to take place today morning, will be a follow up to an impeachment motion that collapsed on Wednesday afternoon.

RECESS

County Assembly Speaker Beatrice Elachi on Wednesday adjourned the assembly plenary sittings despite protests from MCAs from the opposition.

ODM MCAs walked out of the sitting after Speaker Elachi ruled that the House will proceed on recess but would be ready for any recall should the need arise.

MCAs also declined to give Mr Imwatok a chance to ask for an extension of plenary sittings for three more days as they seek for an advisory from the Attorney General and the Supreme Court.

The remaining Jubilee MCAs taunted their counterparts, shouting “no impeachment, we had long seen your intentions”.

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