The split in the ruling Jubilee Party, which is manifested in the fractious relationship between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, is now headed for a tipping point. The setting, just like a few weeks ago when Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu was being impeached, is the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, a senior figure in Jubilee Party, Wednesday tore into his party leader’s decision to take over the running of the Nairobi City County, describing the move as “completely baffling and unfathomable”.
He said it was done in an opaque manner and in breach of the Constitution. On Tuesday, Governor Mike Sonko handed over four key functions of the county to the national government. A deed of transfer was also signed in the presence of the President, Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa.
Mr Murkomen wondered how “the purported transfer of functions to the national government was conducted … with no reference whatsoever to the public generally and in particular to the people of Nairobi City County”.
The differences played out when the Senate adjourned to debate the transfer, which caught many senators, and the public, by surprise. The adjournment motion was brought forth by Mr Murkomen, a close ally of the Deputy President.
In parliamentary traditions, Houses adjourn to discuss weighty national issues. Such motions only give members an opportunity to debate and express their feelings on the particular issue but resolutions are never made. But in a precedent-setting move, Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki allowed the House to make a resolution at the end of the debate.
Prof Kindiki directed the joint committees of Devolved and Intergovernmental Relations and the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee to invite Mr Wamalwa, Attorney-General Paul Kihara and the Council of Governors to appear before it to discuss the transfer and whether there are constitutional and legal challenges relating to public participation.
“The committees must submit a joint report within 21 days and then conduct a public participation in Nairobi,” he ruled. Even as Mr Murkomen described the move as a clawback on the principle of public participation, Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, as well as senators Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi) and Okong’o Omogeni (Nyamira), supported the President’s decision, saying it was lawful and would help restore the city's lost glory.
“The agreement … is a total ambush on the people of Kenya and, in particular, the residents of Nairobi City County who, as is required by the Constitution and the law, should be at the centre of determining questions relating to a proposed transfer of functions from one level of government to another,” Mr Murkomen said. He argued that before the execution of a deed seeking to give effect to such transfer, the approval of the county government was required.
He demanded to know the negotiators involved in the process from both levels of government, how long it took to negotiate the transfer and whether the Cabinet and the county executive approved the transfer.
The senator argued that the transfer follows an emerging trend where governors are arrested, charged in court, barred from office and subsequently impeached.
“This has now moved to the next level where the functions of a county government can be transferred to the national government, leaving it a shell with no functions to perform,” he said.
Mr Orengo said Nairobi has degenerated into one big mess and that any rational person would have taken the decision the President took: “What other choice did the President have?”
He noted that impeachment and dissolution were out of the question because they would have taken time: “Nairobi is dysfunctional. It has no deputy governor, it has no executive committee worth talking about. In fact it has no executive committee member for finance.”
Mr Orengo argued that Dar es Salaam, Addis Ababa and Kigali had leapfrogged Nairobi as an international hub.
Mr Sakaja said he was consulted by both levels of government before the deed of transfer was signed, noting that he welcomed it because it seemed to be the option that serves the best interests of the people of Nairobi.
He said he supported the decision because it would ensure political and economic stability of Nairobi. He insisted that the decision did not undermine devolution, adding that county staff are assured of their jobs.
“The state of affairs in Nairobi has continued to deteriorate and residents have continued to suffer. The governor has been unable to perform his duties due to the charges he is facing in court. There is no deputy governor and the nominee for that position has been blocked by the Anti-Corruption Court. This had left very few options open for consideration,” Mr Sakaja said.