The launch of Jukumu Letu in Makueni could not came at a better time as the county is embroiled in a leadership crisis pitting Governor Kibwana at one end and Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) at the other.
For the better part of the last two years since the governor and MCAs took office, their tenure has been riddled by persistent bickering especially on budget related issues with the Governor declining to assent the budget for the two years in row almost bringing the operations of the county to a near halt.
The Governor has accused the MCAs of being greedy and selfish by demanding huge allocations of money at the expense of development while the MCAs have also pointed a finger at the governor for presiding over a corrupt government.
For example, in the last financial year the MCAs had allocated themselves close to sh912 million for operations out of a total budget of sh5.7 billion while abroad trips by the MCAs cost the taxpayer millions of shillings.
Questions about the benefits of the globe-trotting to the common man have been raised with Prof. Kivutha dismissing the trips as a waste of public resources.
On the other hand, close to sh80 million were allegedly embezzled by county executive officials during the 2013/2014 financial year in a tree planting exercise. Expenditure of sh 30 million allocated for civic education in the same financial year according to the Public Accounts Committee Chair and Kee MCA Jonathan Mutua is questionable.
However, the governor has since fired the County Secretary John Kennedy Muteti, alleged to have engineered the tree scam. Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Executive Tom Luusa was also relieved of his duties after undisclosed amount of millions were lost in fraudulent procurement procedures in his department.
The infighting, between the two arms led to the impeachment of Prof. Kivutha and almost ended on a tragic note, following a shootout at the County Assembly chambers where six people were injured after the governor forcibly made his way to a leaders meeting which he had not been invited.
The shooting, it seems acted as an impetus to the residents who were tired of the wrangles that had adversely affected service delivery to invoke Article 192 of the constitution and dissolve the county government. The process has so far been successful and the county is at the verge of dissolution after the senate approved a six-member committee appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to look into the petition.
If dissolved, Makueni will go into the annals of history as the first county to be suspended under the devolved units.
Article 192 of the constitution outlines that a county can only be dissolved under two conditions; a state of emergency arising from an internal conflict or war and any other exceptional circumstances.
The article is however, silent on these exceptional circumstances and whether Makueni meets either or both thresholds is a subject of discussion that will depend on the findings by the commission of inquiry.
While many believe that the petition is the people’s will, there those who argue otherwise with some suggesting that a majority of the residents do not understand what is ailing the county leadership and therefore cannot be in a position to make an informed choice on whether to dissolve the county or not.
Makueni Parish Father in- charge Fr.Paul Munguti says there are deep-seated leadership issues that need sobriety.
Fr.Munguti further observes that there is need for civic education in the county to enlighten people on the constitution and participatory governance. He says the church as a unifying factor should be at the forefront to advocate for matters that benefit the common man adding that the catholic church together with other churches will soon source for funds to conduct civic education.
“Public participation is paramount and as a church we will pursue what is best for the people of Makueni and bring the residents on board,” says Fr.Munguti.
The cleric sentiments also resonate with the views of Kee MCA Mutua who says that public participation in the county on matters of governance and the Constitution is very low adding that civic education should be given a priority. The MCA observes that despite the residents filing a petition to dissolve the county many of them do not know the role of the county leadership.
“Most residents think that we are councilors and this misunderstanding has created a bad perception that has seriously affected how we operate.”
The PAC chair adds that the tag Makueni MCAs have been labeled by the executive as greedy and selfish further complicates the situation with most MCAs having frosty relationships with their constituents.
“The public see us in a very bad light, and it has been very difficult for us to redeem ourselves,” he says.
Mutua however observes now that political temperatures seemed to have cooled down the truth will soon be revealed. He however blames the media for fueling the wrangling in Makueni County.
“Almost all the 47 counties did not have a budget, the County Assemblies Forum (CAF) had moved to court seeking an interpretation after the Commission of Revenue Allocation introduced the ceilings but things in Makueni were thrown of out proportion,” he says.
But as the two arms of government continue to fight, residents continues to face the same problems they had hoped the devolved units will address. Perennial droughts and the high levels of poverty are a stark reality that the residents seems to have to terms with.
Georgina Musyoki is one frustrated resident of the county. She has to travel for close to five kilometers to fetch water in Kamunyolo dam for both domestic and animal use.
“The current government was elected on the platform of change, little has been achieved, water scarcity is still a problem and to make it worse the government does not involve us when it makes some decisions its no wonder that the leaders are always fighting,” she says.
Speaking during the Jukumu Letu launch Governor Kibwana, a strong advocate for public participation urged the residents to be proactive and put the county leadership to task on issues that affect them. He noted that the power of the people is vested in the Constitution and asked them to take advantage of their constitutional rights and demand for good leadership.
Stephen Makenzi a resident who attended the launch also lauds the initiative. Makenzi says that if the residents put into practice what Jukumu Letu advocates for Makueni will certainly be a progressive county.
Whether the residents of the county will take keen interest in matters of governance is a matter of time and with the dissolution of the county in the offing, time will tell if the residents will go back to the ballot and elect leaders who they hope will address the issues affecting the county or return the same leaders they have complained about.
The commission of inquiry appointed to look on the petition of dissolution is yet to embark on its works and time is of essence. Already residents have started casting doubts on the possibility of dissolution with some arguing that there is not time for another election.
The cost implications of the dissolution is still another issue that makes the dissolution seem like a farce. Putting up a campaign two years after office is no mean feat and most leaders in the county especially MCAs have crossed their fingers hoping against hope that dissolution will not happen.