Hillary Mageka @hillarymageka
A new battlefront between governors and senators over county audit queries has opened, setting the stage for a gruelling political showdown.
Governors are accusing the senators of using their oversight mandate to “cut them to size” with an eye on the 2022 election.
The exchanges between the senators and 10 governors who have recently appeared before the Senate County Public Accounts and Investment Committee (CPAIC) for grilling mirror this adversarial relationship.
The county chiefs who appeared before the Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’-led committee claim their respective senators are exploiting queries raised by Auditor General Edward Ouko to make them look bad.
Governors reading ill motive on the part of the senators include Mike Sonko (Nairobi), Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu), Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Okoth Obado (Migori), Kiraitu Murungi (Meru) and Mohamed Kuti of Isiolo.
Tharaka Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki and Senator Kithure Kindiki have also used Senate audit query sessions to settle political scores.
Kiraitu accused senators of “politicising audit reports to incite county residents against their governments.” Kiraitu, a first-term governor accused senator Mithika Linturi of using his oversight role to perpetuate his agenda to oust him in 2022.
“We already know he has declared interest in this seat. But he must serve the people of Meru in his capacity as senator. He must stop using audit reports as a campaign tool to incite county residents against my administration,” Kiraitu told People Daily.
Matters are the same in Isiolo county where Governor Kuti engaged in a bitter exchange with Senator Fatuma Dullo over a controversial Sh443 million health service scheme.
“It is disheartening that Senate, said to be the guardian angel of the counties, is against a genuine and impactful project. The best approach is to put aside personal issues and sit with the implementer,” Kuti protested.
Speaker Ken Lusaka defended the Senate, saying the queries directed at governors do not originate from the Senate.
“They originate from the Auditor General and when the governors come here, he should have discussed with auditors in counties and executive members in his Cabinet so that he/she does not get ambushed,” he said.
He said the Senate was a House of integrity which was operating above board.
Senators say they are performing their oversight role as provided for in the Constitution.
“I am not interested in the Governor’s seat in 2022. I am only carrying out my oversight role,” said Linturi.
Nairobi senator Johnson Sakaja, who has been at loggerheads with Sonko and his Makueni counterpart Mutula Kilonzo Jr, told county bosses to stop personalising issues.
Political analyst Herman Manyora reads mischief in the actions of some senators.
He said the lawmakers were summoning governors to the Senate to shame and embarrass them under the pretext of responding to audit queries.
“These characters are selfish. They have absolutely no role in interrogating governors. That is the work of Auditor General and county assemblies,” said Manyora.
He says the relationship between governor and senators will get worse as the 2022 election draws close.
But Kajwang’ said that when governors appear before his committee, it should not be about political contests but to account for funds and resources.
“We do not want to mix county politics with oversight work and I want to encourage governors to shed off the political baggage from their counties,” he said.
Kajwang’ said senators cannot be stopped from expressing interest in a governor’s seat.
“We don’t want that to play out in our proceedings. They can campaign outside but not within Senate precincts,” he said,
Mutula, Minority Whip in the Senate, said senators will not massage the egos of governors and (the latter) should come to Senate ready to account for public funds
“An insult to a senator is an insult to all of us. We must stand up to these demigods,” he said, referring to remarks by Governor wa Iria at the weekend targetting Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata.
Sakaja said senators will stop carrying out our oversight role despite the outcry by governors.
“We won’t allow sideshows being peddled by governors,” Sakaja said.
The Civil Society Reference Group called on Kajwang’ to address conflict of interest among its members.
“Are Senators pursuing their own political interest or the public good that such committees? Is this practice not in contravention of Chapter Six of the Constitution on conflict of interest, particularly of the kind that has been allowed to fester in the Senate?” said Suba Churchill, the Presiding Convenor.
This is not the first time Senators have differed with their respective governors.
In the last Senate, the then Kiambu Governor William Kabogo regularly clashed with Senator Kimani Wamatangi.
Others who had bitter exchanges include then Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and then Senator Mike Sonko and then Murang’a Senator Kembi Gitura and wa Iria.
Similar quarrels were witnessed between the Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma and then Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o, now governor.
In West Pokot then Governor Simon Kachapin and then Senator John Lonyangapuo, now governor, and then Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale and Governor Wycliffe Oparanya had similar run-ins.
Incidentally, Nyong’o, Sonko, Lonyangapuo, Kiraitu, and Kuti managed to transition from senators to governor.
The then Senator Stephen Sang also unseated Cleopas Lagat.