The decision by Cabinet Secretaries Charles Keter, John Munyes, Adan Mohamed and Sicily Kariuki to resign from their positions in government to run for the governorship is the latest indication of the significance attached to the county seat.
A seemingly unattractive seat in 2013 that was eschewed by the country’s political supremos, the governor’s seat has grown in stature in the last nine years such that politicians like senators James Orengo and Kithure Kindiki are now being pulled to it like moths to a flame.
This was perhaps demonstrated by the excitement by Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi following the declaration by his rival Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya that he will not contest the county seat.
“I want to thank my brother Munya. He has taken off my stress and headache by making my work easy because I had planned to throw everything that I have to ensure I defeat him because he could be my strongest competitor,” said a jubilant Kiraitu.
Others who will be seeking the seat include senators Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Fred Outa (Kisumu) and a number of MPs Chris Wamalwa (Kiminini), Moitalel ole Kenta (Narok North) and Aisha Jumwa (Malindi).
Former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya, in spite of being boss over 13 counties, quit his job to run in the Trans Nzoia gubernatorial race.
The governor’s seat has become too lucrative to be ignored in favour of national government positions or parliamentary seats.
Experts said the billions of shillings allocated to counties were attracting the bigwigs who stand a higher chance of getting elected in their backyards.
Besides the billions, the county chiefs exercise executive authority which enables them to make appointments, enjoy access to the presidency if elected to key committees of their national lobby and job security because of the long process and higher constitutional threshold for their removal.
This financial year, for instance, the counties received a total of Sh370 billion. Each county gets billions of shillings shared via the county allocation formula.
Yesterday, political and economic experts said the governor’s seat had become attractive because of the lucrative perks that came with it and the billions they control.
“These counties receive billions of shillings. And they are now avenues of corruption. The systems in the counties are still not corruption-proof. These are fertile grounds for corruption. They have become centres of eating as many governors are beneficiaries of proceeds of corruption. You can see they are using the proceeds to fight back,” said Dr Samuel Nyandemo, senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s School of Economics.
Despite the reported leakages that have led to loss of billions of shillings, leading presidential contestants Raila Odinga and William Ruto have promised to increase the county’s allocations meaning more billions to the 47 devolved units.
Raila, the Azimio La Umoja leader, has promised to increase the allocation to a minimum of 35 per cent of the nation’s budget, which would mean more than double the amount they are getting presently.
The Azimio leader wants this to be achieved through a constitutional amendment he says he will pursue immediately if he is elected President. Ruto, who is leading Kenya Kwanza, also aims to raise the allocation to the same figure.
The seats have also turned into a perfect ground for politicians to develop their politics. Raila and Ruto have picked governors to lead their campaigns showing how the seat has not only grown in stature but also how critical it is presently in the succession battle. Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi is leading Raila’s Azimio La Umoja Campaign secretariat while his counterpart from Turkana, Josphat Nanok is in charge of Ruto’s team.
Presently, a number of governors are exploiting their bases to form parties, which they are using as bargaining tools for job opportunities in the next administration in case they do not retain their seats.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr, who is eyeing the county’s governor on Wiper ticket, said most of the senators who are vying for the governor’s seat felt that they had done enough in the House in pursuing what was necessary to entrench devolution and were ready to implement what they have been demanding from those in charge for years.
“For the pioneer senators like myself, who have been criticising governors, it is time for us to put our money where our mouth is. We have to lead by example,” he told People Daily.
He said they had identified what had to be done for the success of devolution and that it was their time to fix the challenges facing it. “The Council of Governors has been a big let-down. I hope the senior people like Orengo will get an opportunity to be in the Council so they can make it a partner with the Senate in devolution rather than an enemy,” the senator added.
He said there could be a small clique that was interested in better governance and developing their counties using the billions allocated them but he added the existing loopholes that made it easier to steal money needed to be sealed “There are few exceptions who are genuinely going to the counties to develop them. Once the loopholes are sealed, you can be sure the number of those going for the seat will go down,” Dr Nyandemo added.
For former Devolution CS Keter, however, who is staking his future on the governor’s seat instead of gambling on a 50-50 percent chance to serve in Ruto’s government that could come with better fortunes, he said he was taking the political experience he had gained as MP, senator and lately as a CS to the county where he promised he would transform it.
“I have the vision, the commitment and will to pursue a development agenda that will grow the economy of county 035, improve the livelihood of my community and transform Kericho to become a model of success. My leadership skills at Cabinet level, my long political experience and vast knowledge of my people and home aptly places me in the best position to lead the transformation of Kericho into a centre of devolved success,” the CS said when he resigned.
Kariuki, who left the lucrative Water docket to try her luck in elective politics for the first time, said the people of Nyandarua deserved her commitment to serve them at the county rather than nationally.
“The people of Nyandarua have come to trust me, my concern for them, my vision, my commitment and my dedication and capability to accelerate development in the county whose potential remains untapped,” said Kariuki, who is preparing for a battle with incumbent Francis Kimemia.
Former Tana River Governor Hussein Dado said he was going back to contest for the seat he lost in 2017 after the people pleaded with him to go back and complete the projects he started.
“I was the first governor of Tana River and we did a lot of development activities but after seeing things are now going wrong, all the communities there have asked me to leave what I am doing and go vie and they will vote for me. That is what has made me leave this job, said Dado,” he said after resigning as Interior Chief Administrative Secretary.
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