County governors on Thursday reacted with defiance to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that they stop demanding more money from the Treasury, signalling a dramatic escalation of their push for a bigger share of government revenue.
The chorus of insistence was led by Council of Governors (CoG) chairman Wycliffe Oparanya, who, at a conference in Nakuru, maintained that they would stick to their guns and push the national government to allocate more money to counties.
He was reacting to President Kenyatta’s comments — made at Kirwara Boys High School in Gatanga, Murang’a County, during the burial of Mr Peter Kenneth’s mother Rahab Wambui — that they should tighten their belts and stop pestering the Treasury for more funds.
The President told governors to cut their salaries if they want to meet the shortfall they have been complaining about, urging them to show what they had done with the allocations they had received so far.
“We are not a money-printing factory and governors should accept what the National Treasury has disbursed to them,” he said.
The President’s stand further strains relations between the two levels of government over the stalemate surrounding the 2019 Division of Revenue Bill.
The National Assembly wants counties given Sh316 billion, up from the Sh310 billion they had approved, while the Senate has proposed Sh327 billion, a compromise from the Sh335 billion set by the Commission on Revenue Allocation.
Mr Oparanya said county bosses would not relent on the matter, which they intend to press in the Senate and courts.
In Murang’a, President Kenyatta put governors on the spot over their perceived failure to spur development in their regions.
“Corruption must end,” he said. “There will be no additional money to the counties and the governors should utilise what is available.”
Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, through Communications Director Aloyce Ager, said counties will wait for the court’s decision.
“It will not be our place to respond to what the President says,” he said. “We will wait for the court’s determination and will respect its decision, especially since it’s the highest court … We went to the court to seek its opinion and so we will await that opinion.”
The clash between Mr Kenyatta and governors is the culmination of a flexing of muscles between the Senate and National Assembly over the Division of Revenue bill.
Governors have moved to court to seek guidance on the matter, but the National Assembly has dug in and voted to allocate counties Sh316 billion.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed its own version of the revenue-allocation bill, giving counties Sh335 billion.
Earlier Thursday, during the governors’ conference in Nakuru, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa backed constitutional changes that will define the roles of the Senate, saying that will effectively cure the rivalry between the two Houses.
“Once the Upper House's roles are identified after a referendum, these tussles will be a thing of the past,” he said.
He challenged county governments to grow revenue streams and avoid over-reliance on the national government, sentiments echoed by the President in Murang’a.
He acknowledged that devolution has been facing serious challenges, among them a ballooning wage bill that stood at Sh120 billion in the 2018/19 financial year and over-reliance on shareable revenue.
Mr Oparanya took Mr Wamalwa to task over delays by the Controller of Budget to remit funds to regional economic blocs.
“We had come up with projects through the blocs, but we are being frustrated by the national government,” Mr Oparanya said.
Experts attending the conference advised the national government to scale down its investment in huge infrastructural projects and adopt a policy that will ensure the country provides more investment opportunities.
Lawyer Kamotho Waiganjo and economist David Ndii said the country is in a fiscal crisis with its performance heavily affected by ballooning debt. They said remedial measures must be adopted as soon as possible.
Reporting by by Eric Matara, Kennedy Kimanthi, Ndungu Gachane, Samuel Kazungu and Stella Cherono