The stage is set for a fresh round of battle between senators and governors over the management of county resources.
The Senate Committee on Finance, Commerce and Economic Affairs has summoned nine governors to appear before on various dates between Tuesday February 18 and February 26 to be grilled over use of public funds.
But in a quick rejoinder the governors through the chairman of the Council of Governors, who is among the nine summoned in his capacity as Bomet Governor, have vowed to move to court Monday to seek interpretation whether the Senate has powers to summon county bosses.
Emboldened by the impeachment of Embu Governor Martin Wambora, the Senate Committee on Finance chaired by Billow Kerrow will from Tuesday next week put to task nine governors over allegations of abuse of office.
The governors snubbed two earlier invitations to appear before the committee claiming that they were superior to Senators, and can only appear before Senate committees for consultation.
The committee was forced to issue official summons to the governors that are binding in law and which they warned would lead to dire consequences for any governor who chooses to disobey the orders to appear in person.
“We had invited them but because they refused to honour invitations, we have sent them summons and in case they fail to appear, the law is clear on the consequences, which may include a fine or even a jail term,” said Kerrow.
Article 125 of the Constitution states that either House of Parliament or any committee has powers to summon any person to appear before it for purposes of giving evidence or providing information.
The nine governors are Ruto, Ken Lusaka (Bungoma), William Kabogo (Kiambu) and Ahmed Abdullahi (Wajir) who is also the chairman of the council’s Finance Committee.
Others are Kitui Governor Julius Malombe, Jack Ranguma (Kisumu), Narok’s Samuel ole Tunai and Hussein Dado of Tana River.
Elgeyo Marakwet Senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Devolution Kipchumba Murkomen said it was time to put things straight for devolution to take root in the country.
“The Senate is determined to set the record straight and ensure that governors explain and take their responsibility a little more seriously. We have the power of oversight and we will use it properly to ensure the success of devolution,” said Murkomen.
The senator said county bosses were misguided in attempting to resist accountability.
But Ruto said the nine governors would not honour the summons and will instead move to court to seek guidance on what the Senate was doing because they (governors) could only be invited by senators for discussions.
While hitting at the senate, Ruto said he was not sure about what the senators were up to because the Public Finance and Management Act was clear that the county executive for Finance and the chief officers were the accounting officers in the county.
“Even the Cabinet Secretaries in the national government are not answerable when the issues of accounts come up, because there are accounting officers in the ministry. If they expect the governor to give details of accounts including vouchers, what then will the accounting officers be doing? Are they playing ping pong with us?” wondered Ruto.
The governors are expected to appear before the committee comprising senators Peter Mositet (vice chairman), Mutahi Kagwe (Nyeri), James Mungai (Nakuru), Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma), Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu) Beatrice Elachi (Nominated) and Catherine Nabwala (Nominated).
In the summoning letter, the committee notes that article 125(1) of the Constitution and sections14 and 15 of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act, as read together with Section 7 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution empowers them to summon any person to appear before it for purposes of giving evidence or providing
“Now therefore, the Standing Committee on Finance, Commerce and Economic Affairs summons you to appear in person before the committee in the boardroom on the ground floor, County Hall,” reads part of the letter.
The letter asks the governors to carry written responses to the issues raised by the Controller of Budgets in the County Budgets implementations review report for the First quarter of 2013/14, approved budget estimates for the county, approved supplementary budgets and any other relevant documentation in their possession.
Nakuru Senator James Mungai said any governor who fails to obey the summons would be setting himself up for failure
“It is punitive if they fail to honour the summons, we will take it as contempt and the matter will thereafter move to the High Court,” he said.
Mungai said the Senate also had powers to cut funding for the governors if they disobeyed the committee but said that was not an option at the moment.
Ruto accused the senators of attempts to frustrate devolution by trying to intimidate the county bosses.
“We know that some senators are all over the counties trying to bring down devolution, in support of some senior officers. There bigger plan is to destroy devolution, otherwise how do they expect a governor present receipts to them to account for finances. These guys are trying to set up the governors after they were done with the Embu Governor. If they are inviting us on generalities then that is not a summons but a discussion, a summon must be based on investigations and interrogation of details,” Ruto sought to clarify.
Bungoma Governor Ken Lusaka confirmed that he had received the summons to appear before the committee to shed light on the issues raised by the Controller of Budgets both in the supplementary and annual budgets.
“There are issues they had raised and are seeking clarification on things like imprest among others,” said Lusaka.
The political war between the county chief executive officers and senators started mid last year but intensified after Nandi Senator Stephen Sang tabled a Bill in Senate proposing an amendment to the County Government Act to establish County Development Boards.
The respective county senators would chair the boards with the membership from local leaders and their main mandate would be to deliberate on budgets and finances and also look into County Investment Development Plan. In the proposed scheme of things, the governor would sit as the secretary of the board.
However, governors accused senators of trying to usurp their roles and vowed to resist any such attempts.
“This is a scheme by some elements to destroy devolution. It appears that some of the senators are compromised to sabotage the implementation of devolution. We will not accept that,” said Ruto then.