Devolution under siege; why governors are operating from Nairobi

The passage of the new constitution and its conglomeration brought in a new dawn in Kenya, this meant that services were going to draw near the mwananchi and so was leadership.

But this is not the case yet word moving round is that more than three-quarters of the governors operate from Nairobi or spend more than half a week in the capital whilestill serving fro there.

Six years since the advent of devolution, a majority of governors are still running their counties from Nairobi.

This paradox flies in the face of the spirit of transferring power to the regions that envisaged the decentralisation of resources and services from Nairobi.

Just three weeks ago, a county secretary from the North Rift flew to Nairobi to have his boss sign crucial documents that had accumulated and flew back the following day.

The governor had not been in the county for days, and his signature was needed to unlock some pending payments.The secretary had to come because the county chief was heading to a Middle Eastern country for one week.

In another county, in Nyanza, executive committee members were last month summoned for a Cabinet meeting in Nairobi in what is becoming the norm rather than the exception in the devolved structures.

A senior official in one county government confessed that it was not unusual to have two or three ministers summoned by their bosses from time to time to come and brief him or her on the goings-on in the county.

Investigations reveal that about 30 governors are operating from either rented high-end houses or their city homes, loading over the expenses to taxpayers in what could be the next big scandal to be unearthed by Auditor-General Edward Ouko.

Then there are those who prefer staying in five-star hotels whenever they are in Nairobi. At one point in a case involving a governor from western Kenya, the county accumulated Sh5 million in boarding expenses at a leading hotel in Westlands.

The hotel’s management sought to get the outstanding amount cleared or at least significantly reduced for the man to continue operating from there.

The governors receive guests and conduct meetings in the hotels on concessionary rates, bringing brisk business to the owners.An official attached to a county chief estimates that they are normally in Nairobi for at least four days a week, a lucrative deal in terms of allowances.

Those who frequent the city have kept a lean team that is almost permanently there. It includes drivers, personal aides as well as bodyguards.

The number does not include aides based at Delta House, the Council of Governors’ (CoG) offices in Westlands.CoG chairman Wycliffe Oparanya defended his colleagues, saying it was practically impossible to run a county without frequenting Nairobi.

“The truth is we have never had full devolution. It is still at infant stages, and as such we will keep coming to Nairobi since most of the essential services we rely on are still based there,” he said.

He gave the example of the Office of the Controller of Budget as one place they have to routinely visit to seek permission to spend money disbursed by the exchequer.

“We have staff who normally follow up with the Controller of Budget, but sometimes governors are forced to step in for things to move faster,” he said.

Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo approves payments made by counties.But on Saturday, Ms Odhiambo said governors do not go to her office to follow-up on exchequer releases.

“This is done by the county treasury officials who are signatories to the accounts held at the Central Bank. Approval of exchequer requests from the counties takes one day if all the documents are in order.

However, authorised county officials are required to submit hard copies of the exchequer requests to the Central Bank. They are, therefore, compelled to come to Nairobi,” she said.

controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo

She added that soon the transactions will be done remotely. “The exchequer release process is being automated. Once this is completed, county officials will not be required to come to Nairobi,” she said.

The Kakamega governor said most of his peers had homes in Nairobi long before they were elected, and they would most likely spend time there and not in hotels when in the city.

He however explained that even in his absence, work in the county should not stall.

“Are you saying that when President Uhuru Kenyatta is out of the country things get to a standstill until he returns? This is an unfair accusation on governors,” he said.

His Kericho counterpart Paul Chepkwony, who chairs a CoG technical committee on gender and youth, argues that governors have other responsibilities than being chief administrators of their counties that compel them to “occasionally” operate from Nairobi.

“We attend many meetings in Nairobi, from the inter-governmental ones to lobbying for projects in ministries. No governor can effectively run his or her county without going to the headquarters since it is the source that feeds us all,” he said.

Kericho Governor, Paul Chepkwony

The long absence of Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho early last year triggered speculation among his opponents that he was absconding duty. He had gone on a tour of Europe and the Americas.

“There is no vacuum at all. In his absence, I perform all his duties, and it is only people who want to politicise the otherwise worthwhile trips,” his deputy William Kingi said then.

Some of the governors contacted for comment by a local media said they were aware of the never-ending complaints that they no longer care about the kind of legacy they will leave behind and are more concerned with relentless political fights to maintain the status quo.

But, they in turn accuse the public and their political opponents of missing the bigger picture of what they do to supplement the national revenue allocation.

The county bosses who spoke to the media but did not want to go on record blamed a combination of operational and policy factors for their frequent visits to Nairobi.

All governors are members of CoG and usually have meetings at least twice a week. Instructively, the county bosses could be members of more than one committee.

Most governors extend their visits in the city, meeting different donors to leverage the partnerships to improve their counties’ economies.This is to bridge the gap occasioned by Treasury delays in releasing funds to counties.

A governor from the central region said governors are forced to travel to Nairobi to try to correct the consistent poor funding from the Treasury.

“We have been on the receiving end from the public and find it hard to explain why we cannot deliver promises we made during campaigns,” the governor said, adding that the problem has been compounded by low revenues counties have been collecting.

Inordinate disbursement delays did not start today, said a governor. “Even the Controller of Budget raises the matter as a critical challenge facing counties. But we have to push where we can. And this requires that we meet those occupying those offices,” the governor said.

A governor from one of the counties most affected by the ongoing drought blamed bureaucracies that require him or his finance executive to be Nairobi.

He said he decided to shift operations to one of his offices in Nairobi at least four days a week and delegate most of his work to his deputy and the county secretary after frequent breakdowns of the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis).

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