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Lake region bloc take-off close

Dickens Wasonga @PeopleDailyKe

The lake region economic bloc (LREB) will not split despite growing concerns that some counties could be deliberately delaying the passage of a key bill to sabotage the arrangement.

Giving the assurance, the leadership of the alliance said it would insulate the bloc by asking its members to keep off politics that could derail the region’s economic rebirth, which is its key agenda.

Chairman of the bloc, Wycliffe Oparanya’s asked more than 700 Members of County Assembly (MCAs) during a meeting in Kisumu to remember that the aim of the new coalition is purely business.

“It is about business that will empower our people economically and nothing else,” he told the ward representatives attending the bloc’s county leadership interactive meeting in the lakeside town on Friday.

But even as the LREB chairman exuded confidence that the plans were on course, it emerged that the bloc had missed targets it set for itself when its formation was mooted in 2015.

So far, only two out of the 14 county assemblies have passed the lake region economic bloc’s bill, a critical tool needed to legalise its activities.

By Friday, only the county assemblies of Kakamega and Kisii had passed the LREB bill.  The bloc’s much talked about regional development bank also failed to meet its set operational deadline.

During the meeting, LREB Chief Executive Officer Abala Wanga raised concerns about the delay, terming it a major setback. He said they had anticipated that at least six county assemblies would have passed the bill before the inaugural trade investment and blue economy conference which kicks off on October 21, in Bomet.

The conference whose theme is “Optimising utilisation of shared resources for prosperity under the Big Four Agenda ‘’ has been organised by LREB. 

LREB expects to use the four-day event to showcase investment opportunities available in the region.

Oparanya, who is also the Kakamega Governor pleaded with the remaining 12 county assemblies to pass the bill to help the regional bloc fast-track its activities. He appealed to elected leaders in the bloc to shun politics that might derail the economic unity that the alliance was seeking to achieve.

“Let us remember that this organisation is not for politics. Our key objective is to consolidate our economic potential to help us realise socio-economic growth for the benefit of our people ‘’ he said. There have been fears that some of the counties were wavering on their earlier commitment to work together through the bloc.

Nandi County has been cited in the past as among the counties whose leadership appears not to be fully committed to the activities of the bloc.

Only five governors attended the Friday meeting although most of the counties were represented through their deputy governors. Nandi Governor Stephen Sang’ was absent although his deputy attended. The five were Sospeter Ojamong (Busia), Wilber Otichilo (Vihiga), Cornel Rasanga (Siaya) and Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu).

Briefing journalists after the meeting, Oparanya who read the resolutions passed at the meeting, downplayed the fallout claims. Some assemblies have reportedly been calling for amendments into the bill before passing it.

Oparanya said they had not yet received any official communication from Nandi County indicating they wanted to pullout. Speaking at the event, Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso said the bloc would enhance inter- county trade and asked the leaders not to backtrack on their earlier commitment in supporting it.

She said 13 counties had signed an agreement binding them to the bloc, apart from Migori County.

Nyong’o said the bloc plans to revive the growing of cash crops such as cotton, tea and sugarcane and urged member counties to take advantage of the African Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa) to access the export market.

He said most counties were struggling to raise revenue to supplement what they receive from the National Treasury.

“The formation of the regional bank will greatly help us to raise funds for development projects of our regions. Most investors have shown interest in supporting the bloc and so far Ford Foundation has given it Sh20 million to strengthen the secretariat,’’ he said.

 The resolutions passed by the meeting attended by 703 ward representatives, two MPs and a Senator from the bloc agreed to register a joint venture to be used as investment vehicle for the proposed regional bank.

“Following consultations with relevant statutory bodies we are in the process of registering the joint venture as an investment vehicle for the bank,” Oparanya said. When the idea was mooted, member counties were to contribute Sh200 million each towards the formation of the development bank.

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