In his heyday as the majority leader of the Taita-Taveta County Assembly, former Mwanda/Mghange ward representative Cromwell Baridi was a man of means and power.
As the senior-most member in the county assembly, he was entitled to several perks, including an official county assembly vehicle.
Mr Baridi also enjoyed paid for accommodation and meetings in five star hotels and flights to various destinations.
But two years since he lost his seat, Mr Baridi’s fortunes have dwindled sharply.
Just last month, Taita-Taveta county assembly clerk Gadiel Maghanga initiated the process to recover millions of shillings for a car and mortgage loan Mr Baridi owes the assembly.
“I don’t know when I will pay because I have no money at the moment,” Mr Baridi tells Sunday Nation.
He now stares at the possibility of auctioneers disposing of his property to recover the Sh2.5 million he owes the county assembly.
This can happen any time following the expiry of a 14-day notice issued by the clerk for the recovery of the funds.
“I have not refused to pay the money, but I think the county assembly should use dialogue instead of threatening us with notices. They are not the only people we owe. I have debts everywhere,” he laments with a beaten grin on his face.
Mr Baridi, who said he spent over Sh10 million in the 2017 general election when he unsuccessfully contested the Wundanyi parliamentary seat, now wants the counties to go slow on loans owed to county governments by former MCAs, saying they are causing them sleepless nights.
“The government should understand that we are jobless and we have so many responsibilities to take care of. Many of the former MCAs are struggling to make ends meet,” he says.
Mr Baridi’s story of pain and anguish two years after leaving office is similar to narratives from hundreds of former MCAs who have opened up to Sunday Nation about their changed fortunes.
“Over 2,000 out of 2,400 MCAs did not come back to office after the 2017 election. Quite a number are now struggling to put food on the table, properties of some have been auctioned, some have moved back to their parents’ homes while a number has sunk into depression and a couple others have committed suicide,” says James Kagoni, the secretary-general of Pioneer MCAs Association of Kenya, an organisation bringing together former leaders.
The association’s chairman, Baringo South MP Charles Kamuren, is a former MCA.
According to the association, many former MCAs have found it difficult to access jobs in county governments where some of them are still viewed as political competitors by the current MCAs and have been unable to start businesses having used most of what they earned.
The Sunday Nation has established that leaders, who turned into instant millionaires, threatened to impeach governors and tabled bills in the assemblies, are suffering in silence.
After losing his seat, Mr Arthur Munga, a former MCA in Kiambu County, says he has relocated to Mai Mahiu where he is a boda-boda rider.
“After I lost the election, I became broke. I could not even move within my ward. I don’t earn as much as I used to when I was an MCA, but I have to put food on the table,” he says.
A number of his former colleagues at the Kiambu assembly told Sunday Nation that they are now unable to pay school fees for their children and that they have been evicted from their houses.
In Kisii County, former Riana Ward representative Obote Motonu started driving a taxi after losing the election in 2017.
“The taxi business greatly helped me make some income after the loss, and recently I was nominated to represent the taxi business people at the Kisii municipal board,” he says.
In the neighbouring Nyamira County, former MCAs Atuti Nyameino and Zipporah Osoro are some of the individuals who were a few months ago shortlisted for the position of chief officer. The positions are yet to be filled.
As they await the interviews, Ms Osoro currently runs a boutique in Nyamira Town that deals in women’s clothing.
“Most of my former colleagues who were not engaged in business are greatly suffering. Some are unable to fuel their cars and pay school fees for their children,” says Mr Nyameino.
Former MCA Julius Marita says it has become difficult for some of them to get employed by county governments.
“We are asking governors to consider employing former MCAs as they are the key pillars in the devolution story. They can include us even in boards or even in advisory roles so that we can also get some income,” says Mr Marita.
In Murang’a County, some of the former MCAs have since gone back to doing menial jobs as clerks in offices, and some have since sought employment in private firms.
Former Kamahuha MCA John Njoroge has sought employment as a risk assessment officer for an insurance company, while former Kariara Ward Representative Muhoro Njeri has gone into business, which he says is struggling to pick up.
“I am trying to sell petroleum products, but the business is not doing well. I also offer transport services using my lorry,” says Mr Njeri.
“I am among those who can’t get employment or a tender in the Murang’a County government as a result of an impeachment motion, which we crafted against the governor as part of our work in overseeing county operations.
"It now seems that both the county and national governments have forgotten about us despite the role we played to foster development in counties,” says Mr Joseph Machiri, the former MCA for Kamacharia ward.
The former MCAs say they are unable to get the required documents for employment after being blacklisted by a credit reference bureau.
They are also unable to get tax compliance certificates after failure by their respective counties to submit their Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) statutory deductions.
For instance, the Kiambu County assembly failed to submit KRA statutory deductions and now the taxman is demanding Sh1 million in tax arrears from each of the former 87 assembly members before they can be issued with tax compliance certificates.
Others are facing difficulties with KRA due to miscalculated gratuity, with the taxman now demanding millions of shillings which they say they are unable to raise due to their financial constraints.
They include former Makueni County Deputy Chief Whip Lizer Zacharia and Maurice Ekolan, former MCA for Angurai North ward, Busia County.
“I have been to KRA for two weeks now and they have refused to clear me, saying that I owe them Sh200,000 in statutory deductions; which they say the county assembly never remitted. I am being turned away from job interviews because I don’t have a tax compliance certificate. I am now forced to stay unemployed,” laments Ms Zacharia.
Mr Ekolan, who says he is now a peasant farmer, claims he is unable to raise the Sh320,000 of unpaid statutory deductions KRA is demanding from him.
“During our tenure, we signed a memorandum of understating with the Local Authorities Provident Fund (Lapfund) who were to pay us a lumpsum gratuity after leaving office. They were also supposed to submit statutory payments to KRA. Unfortunately, the taxman claims they never received the deductions,” Mr Ekolan says.
The MCAs are demanding the payment of salaries for eight months over delayed polls. The case is set to begin at the Supreme Court in the coming few days.
He adds: “We are asking Lapfund officials to clarify on the issue of our remissions to KRA. Being broke and jobless, I don’t see how I can raise the funds.”
Mr Ekolan also says a number of his former colleagues have been forced to do casual and low-paying jobs. He gives the example of former Chakol North MCA Stephen Ekapolon who after losing the election has come back to Nairobi and taken up a job as a bread salesman.
His other former colleague, Ms Margret Chale, now makes a living through a wines and spirits outlet in Nambale town.
Former MCAs, who no longer enjoy medical insurance after being voted out, are also unable to meet their medical costs as they have no jobs.
Former Baringo MCA Magdalene Chebet says she is also unable to get proper medication after failure to get back to the county assembly.
She uses a wheelchair after she was involved in an accident. “I have not found anything to do after leaving the county assembly. I am just at home with no source of income,” Ms Chebet tells Sunday Nation.
Mr Kagoni says the county and national governments should find a way of utilising the skills and expertise of the former MCAs.
“The former MCAs have received negligent employment opportunities in national and county governments yet a considerable amount of resources was spent to educate them on issues to deal with devolution and legislation. Their expertise and skills need to be tapped,” says Mr Kagoni, a young professional investment banker who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in leadership.
Additional reporting by Lucy Mkanyika