Bad blood between Taita-Taveta Governor Granton Samboja and Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) has left the devolved unit in uncertainty after the county boss initiated the process of dissolving the county in what some have termed a premature move.
Both sides are now digging in for a showdown, with Mr Samboja voluntarily subjecting himself to a by-election, collecting signatures that have now come close to 38,000, surpassing the expected 18,000 mark despite having no numbers in the current county assembly.
Mr Samboja’s intention is to counter the insistence by the ward representatives to allocate themselves more than Sh800 million for ward development.
The governor is anchoring his resolve on the Controller of Budget’s rejection of the proposed MCAs' development fund, arguing that it does not conform to either the Constitution or the Public Finance Management Act, both of which place the use of public funds under the national and county governments.
In the past few weeks, a number of 2019/2020 budget-related disputes between the governors and MCAs have been recorded, including in Kisumu and Nairobi counties, but their respective governors have not taken such a hard stance, which might see 20 elected MCAs in Taita-Taveta County and the governor go for fresh election if the petition sails through.
Although Mr Samboja has had the support of the two area MPs, Danson Mwashako (Wundanyi), Andrew Mwadime (Mwatate) and area Senator Jones Mwaruma in collection of signatures and in petitioning President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve the assembly, all the MCAs led by Speaker Meshack Maghanga have disregarded the move and distanced themselves from participating in the exercise.
This is even as the Senate conducts its own independent investigations, which affect both sides, regarding suspect spending of Sh224 million without approval by the Senate in the 2018/2019 financial year. The suspect spending was flagged by Auditor General Edward Ouko.
“Governor Samboja should exercise restraint and patience as there are so many ways to resolve this,” Mr Maghanga said, accusing the Samboja-led government of providing conflicting information on the county's expenditure.
The differences between the county executive and assembly arms reached fever pitch after Governor Samboja signed a memorandum to dissolve the devolved unit after refusing to bow to the MCAs’ pressure to allocate themselves the Sh830 million in the 2019/2020 financial year to spend in their respective wards without any regulation.
In a memorandum to the Speaker, Governor Samboja asked for a review of the bill proposing the allocation.
“With the need to provide for a budgetary provision for pending bills and the other county government priority projects, the above recommendation for allocation of Sh41,650,000 for each ward will not be tenable,” stated part of the memo.
While kicking off the signature collection exercise, Mr Samboja said the MCAs were blackmailing him and vowed to stand with the voters.
Mr Samboja said he would only sign the bill if water, health, education and infrastructure got adequate allocations.
“I call upon every voter to assist me salvage our great nation from the county assembly members who have done everything possible to stand in they way of development by requesting Sh41.5 million for their ward projects,” he said.
The MCAs on the other hand declined to make the amendments proposed by the governor, accusing the county boss of planning to embezzle funds.
The MCAs poked holes in the budget, stating that issues such as pending bills, ward development fund, Datu Sawazisha fund, road maintenance and county legal services budget had not been adequately addressed.
In the back and forth, the Taita executive had proposed Sh50 million for a kitty to benefit women, the youth and people with disabilities, but the assembly scrapped the budget and reduced the legal services budget from Sh26 million to Shh6 million and allocated the funds to their ward fund, arguing that the legal department had failed to account for Sh18 million allocated in the last financial year.
“Most of the projects in the county are done by MCAs and no development has been undertaken by the Executive. The governor is shifting the poor development record of his government to the MCAs,” said Mr Maghanga.
The MCAs said they decided to allocate the funds to their ward development after the executive failed to show any project they hade done in the 2018/2019 fiscal year with the more than Sh600 million allocated to them.
Reporting by Allan Olingo, Antony Kitimo and Lucy Mkanyika