COMPLYING WITH DIRECTIVE

Western counties in rush to build governors' residences

Most have hurriedly started projects after the government threatened to withdraw house allowances paid to county chiefs.

In Summary

•SRC ordered in 2015 that governors stop receiving house allowances effective July this year.

• The Senate set Sh45 million as the highest amount any county can spend in building a governor’s residence.

Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong
Image: EMOJONG OSERE

County governments in Western Kenya have started constructing official governors’ residences, seven years since the inception of devolution.

Most have hurriedly started projects after the government threatened to withdraw house allowances paid to county chiefs.

County governments have been in the race to build governors’ and county assembly speakers’ official houses following a directive by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) that counties top officials will stop receiving house allowances starting July, 2019. This is in the SRC 2015 circular.

 

According to the SRC, county governments were expected to have built official residences for governors and county assembly speakers as the commission was to stop paying rent for the county top officials by June 30, 2019.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, Bungoma’s Wycliffe Wangamati and Sospeter Ojaamong of Busia operate from their rural homes. Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo shifted from his Bunyore home after the election and resides at Sosa Cottages in Vihiga subcounty.

The Kakamega governor’s residence, which was started four years ago in Lugari, is incomplete. In Vihiga county, Sh23 million has been allocated for the residence. Bungoma’s Wangamati ordered the removal of Sh65 million earlier earmarked for his official residence from the budget, terming it not a priority.

The Senate has set Sh45 million as the highest amount any county can spend in building a governor’s residence.

Tharaka Nithi, by October last year, had allocated the least amount of money for constructing the governor’s residence after MCA put the project’s budget at Sh15 million.

Busia is the latest county in Western to allocate funds for the construction. The county assembly has approved Sh30 million for the project.

The money is factored in the 2019-20 Supplementary Budget estimates passed by the county assembly on November 13.

 

The budget approximations seen by the Star show that the amount approved was scaled down from Sh35 million after Ojaamong wrote to the Assembly’s Budget Committee requesting that the figure be reduced by Sh5 million.

“Having considered the requests by the governor, the committee recommends that Sh5 million for construction of governor’s residence be reduced from Sh35 million to Sh30 million,” the document bearing the estimates reads.

The Sh5 million deducted, according to the document, was channelled to the Department of Water, Environment and Natural Resources and will be invested in purchasing a Test Pumping Unit.

The MCA’s approval puts to rest the debate over whether Ojaamong will be among county chiefs who will complete their tenures in 2022 without official residences.

The former Amagoro MP had last year said he had no plans to put up an official house.

Plans to build such lavish homes have faced opposition from county residents and some MCAs on grounds that money should be spent on financing ward projects.

Former Angurai North MCA aspirant Kizito Echakara (Jubilee) said building Busia governor’s residence should have been shelved and the money invested in development.

“It should be the least priority. Busia residents have a lot of challenges that need to be addressed,” he said.

“We have poor health services and I feel the money should have been directed to sectors that need urgent attention like health. Prioritise a residence? What for? It is not of any importance as of now.”

Teso North ANC leader Fredrick Epalat urged MCAs to rethink the approval lest he petition for the dissolution of the county government. “As Teso North ANC Youth League leader the move by the county assembly to approve the construction of a mansion worth Sh30 million for Busia governor is uncalled-for. It is an insult not only to Teso North constituents but Busia county at large,” he said.

Nominated MCA Cynthia Mutere, who supports the project, said the plan was timely since it is a requirement by the national government that all counties build houses for top county officials.

“There is already a budget for it. It is a national government initiative. Ours is only to approve it,” she said on the phone.