President Uhuru Kenyatta, DP Ruto reach out to governors to soften push for referendum

President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), CoG Chairman Isaac Rutto (right) and Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya during a summit between national and county governments at State House, Nairobi, Tuesday.
NAIROBI: President Uhuru Kenyatta appears set to yield to governors’ demands as a way of enticing them to drop their push to amend the Constitution through the Pesa Mashinani initiative, a process parallel to the Opposition’s Okoa Kenya. Sources informed The Standard that the long meeting between the President Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and governors at State House on Monday revolved around the reasons why the county bosses want the Constitution amended. Sources revealed the President and his deputy appeared keen to address the issues raised by governors without necessarily going to a referendum. Governors want Kenyans to support amendments to the Constitution to, among other things, increase allocations to counties from 15 to 45 per cent of the national revenue. Other grievances the governors want addressed through the referendum is their involvement in security matters at the county level through the County Policing Authority, devolution of functions specified in Schedule Four and management of natural resources.
Sources who attended Monday’s meeting but declined to be named confirmed that the President and his deputy, perhaps in their effort to scuttle the referendum process, gave in to many of their demands. They described the meeting as “very cordial”.  Monday’s meeting was the third with the Executive but only the first after governors announced their intention to call for a referendum to address challenges affecting devolution. The Executive and governors have been at crossroads over claims the national government is trying to undermine the regional administrative units through the Devolution ministry and new laws passed by Parliament. Governors, who spoke to The Standard, reported the President was “very” receptive contrary to their expectations and was “willing to work with the county governments for the interest of the nation”.
The Standard established that apart from the summit resolving that a commission of inquiry be set up to probe the petition by Makueni voters, who are calling for the dissolution of their county, the President directed that issuance of licences for forest loggers be cancelled with immediate effect. “The President concurred with us that management of forests should be streamlined and proper mechanisms put in place to ensure county governments play a role,” reported a governor who declined to be named so as not to be seen to be the one leaking proceedings of a meeting with the President. He continued: “There is so much illegal logging, which is depleting our forest cover. We discussed this matter in our last meeting in May but nothing has changed. We are happy the President has issued this directive.”
During the meeting, the leaders also resolved to form a technical committee composing of the President, Council of Governors (CoG) Roads Committee chaired by Uasin Gishu County boss Jackson Mandago and the Roads ministry representatives to iron out the contentious issues surrounding the devolution of road services.
“The classification and sharing of equipment has been a concern to county governments. There is an active case in court, but we hope the team will be able to reach a consensus before the next court session,” said another governor, who is a member of the committee. He added: “Roads is an important aspect of devolution. To expand our economy, we must have good infrastructure to facilitate easy export of produce to and from local markets.” Further, governors would soon be part of the security committee at the counties, following the meetings’ resolution that the County Policing Authority be formed. CoG Chairman Isaac Ruto (Bomet), confirmed that the meeting was enriching as they were able to deliberate on issues affecting counties and were on the same page with the national Executive.
“The issue of Makueni County and security took precedence. We agreed that it was important for the two levels of government to work together for the interest of the nation,” said Governor Ruto. He said they also deliberated on Makueni’s status, which he concurs with Governor Kivutha Kibwana, that reconciliation attempts with the Members of the County Assembly has not been forthcoming.
The Standard, however, established that the President was hesitant on the dissolution option. Under Article 192 of the Constitution on the suspension of a county government, the President may suspend a county government following an emergency arising out of internal conflict or war and any other exceptional circumstance. In the case of Makueni, the President relied on Article 192 1(b) and County Government Act Section 123, to consent on the establishment of a commission of inquiry, once the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission verifies the signatures of those who want the county dissolved.
“A person may petition the President to suspend a county government in accordance with Article 192(1)(b) of the Constitution if the county government engages in actions that are deemed to be against the common needs and interests of the citizens of a county,” reads part of Section 123.
It continues: “The President shall nominate members of a commission to inquire into and investigate the situation in the county and make recommendations on the suspension of the county government and shall, after approval by Senate, appoint the members of the commission by notice in the Gazette.”
The independent commission shall comprise, a chairperson, who shall be an advocate of the High Court with at least 15 years’ experience, the chairperson of the National Police Service, two residents of the county in question and who have not for the last ten years stood for an elective office in the region, or have been an officer or employee of the affected county government and two other external persons with experience in conflict management.
The commission’s report would be forwarded to the President, who upon being satisfied that justifiable grounds exist for a county government’s suspension, shall within seven days forward the report, together with the petition for suspension to the Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro.
The law stipulates that once the Speaker receives the report, he shall have a motion for the county government’s suspension laid before the Senate within seven days. Governor Ruto said the two levels of government would be working on modalities to ensure counties take part in security management at the county level.
CoG Whip Ken Lusaka (Bungoma) also concurred with Ruto, that governors, “understand the local terrains and will be useful in assisting to address the runaway insecurity”. The President is reported to have given his undertaking to the governors that the county policing regulations have been gazetted and what remains is the rolling out of the process and getting the committee members.
The summit also discussed the intergovernmental structures and secretariat, including appointment of the members of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee that is supposed to replace the Transition Authority, whose term expires next year. However, the matter was not concluded but was deferred to next month to be considered during a special summit meeting. Governors also petitioned the Executive for additional funds to run the CoG secretariat, which only received Sh30million yet had requested for Sh400 million.