NAIROBI, Kenya Aug 20 – The cash crisis facing counties is set to persist longer as the bicameral committee of parliament constituted to unlock the Division of Revenue Bill 2019 stalemate failed to reach a consensus during its inaugural sitting.
During the session that was highly loaded with controversy and bitter confrontation on Tuesday, the 18-member committee failed to strike a deal in what portends a deeper financial crisis with several counties yet to pay their workers July salaries.
The formation of the committee that was established following a Supreme Court advisory opinion issued by Chief Justice David Maraga signaled a silver lining but going by Tuesday’s events, counties’ woes seem to have deepen further.
The proceedings, from the onset were characterized by counter accusations with National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale who led his colleagues from the House protesting the constitution of the agenda which had lined up the election of the committee Chairperson and Vice Chairperson as a priority.
Duale termed the election of the leadership of the committee as nonsensical insisting that members should go straight into the main agenda of discussing the shareable revenue standoff.
“Unless someone wants to control how Parliament operates, I think it is important that we dive straight into the main agenda of the day. We need to work on procedure. Our meeting is on mediation on the of the Division of Revenue Bill,” he said.
Upon varied submissions by members it was finally agreed that the election takes place after which the committee would amend the agenda.
The committee resolved to restore the National Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairperson Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu) as the chair, deputized by his Senate counterpart Mohammed Mohamud (Mandera).
The two served on similar capacities in the previous talks.
National Assembly Majority Whip Cecily Mbarire threw the spanner in the works when she proposed that the session be held in camera, a proposition that sparked outrage from Senators Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi), Ledama Ole Kina (Narok) and Okongo Omogeni (Nyamira).
“The matter at hand is very sensitive and I would implore the chairperson that it be discussed in camera to allow members dissect the issues properly,” she said.
Sakaja raised objection to the idea and noted that the first talks flopped because the media was never given access to cover the proceedings.
“The first talks flopped because all the talking was done in darkness,” he said.
Duale also supported the idea of having the proceedings made public noting that it was in the interest of Kenyans.
“All parliamentary sessions are to be made public because we represent the people,” he said.
When finally the legislators got down to business, senators made it clear that they will not take anything less than Sh335 billion as sharable revenue allocation to be dispersed to counties with Ole Kina proposing that all the three arms of government should cut down on their allocated expenditure and help foot the funds needed by the counties.
Ole Kina argued that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda which encompasses affordable housing, universal health care, manufacturing and food security had been allocated Sh450 billion which he said was unnecessary to some extent.
“I know there is the issue of legacy but the health function for instance was allocated Sh47.8 billion, why is it not possible that some of this amount can be donated to counties in the form of grants,” he said.
The proposal was surprisingly welcomed by MP Mishi Mboko (Likoni) who said services at the counties had been paralyzed hence the need for action.
“We need to stop arguing and do whatever needs to be done. County workers have not been paid and people are not getting the required services,” she said.
Rising on a point of order, Duale dismissed Ole Kina’s submission noting that the funds were duly allocated and opening up budgets for the already designated ministries or departments would be unconstitutional and instead advised that Senators would only get their way if they agree to take supplementary budgets.
MP Amos Kimunya (Kipipiri) noted the economy was doing badly hence Senators were not justified to ask for more funds and said in the event more funds were to be released then the Kenyan taxpayer would bear the brunt.
“In recent days we have witnessed well established organizations laying off their workers and this is purely because our economy is unstable,” he said.
Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni) implored members to embrace sobriety on the matter that has crippled crucial service in the counties maintaining that hard line positions would only worsen the financial crisis in counties.
“We will not find a solution for counties when fingers are pointed at us as if we live in other countries, yet each MP comes from a county. We need to reason together,” he said.
MP John Mbadi (Suba South) proposed that it would only be reasonable if the National Treasury through its Principal Secretary, both clerks of the two chambers of Parliament and the Judiciary Registrar are given an opportunity to give their input on the matter and advise whether it would be viable for their respective budgets to be slashed.
Committee Vice Chairperson Mohamud adjourned the session to next week Wednesday even as it become apparent that the standoff was far from over.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has twice now implored with the MPs and Senators to end the stalemate asking the Senators to accept the Sh316 billion already allocated to the counties insisting that national government resources are limited.
The mediation committee has until September 9 to come up with concrete resolutions to end the impasse when the matter comes up for mention at the Supreme Court as directed by CJ Maraga.