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January 21, 2019

MBAKA: Why speakers are MCA's new targets

Nairobi county speaker Beatrice Elachi during a press conference at her office on 28th.August.2018./EZEKIEL AMING'A
Nairobi county speaker Beatrice Elachi during a press conference at her office on 28th.August.2018./EZEKIEL AMING'A
Incessant demands for lucrative foreign trips, bonding and bench marking outings, bare-knuckle battles to control multi-million tenders and the scramble to influence staff recruitment, are behind the latest onslaught by MCAs on county assembly speakers.

A year after the last general election, assertive ward representatives have trained their guns on speakers in what could impede legislation, oversight and representation at the counties.

The new wave of impeachments have thrown most speakers off balance, with some of them staring at ouster bids in what could further deepen the crisis political parties are facing in legislative arms.

With statistics showing that over half of the country’s 2,222 MCAs were voted out in last year’s polls, most newcomers are said to be angling for appointments for their relatives and cronies, while at the same time seeking a slice of the assembly contracts.

The pressure has set them against the speakers, who also chair the powerful county assembly service boards, which approve contracts and employment of staff.

In a bid to kick out unfriendly and unyielding speakers, MCAs have accused their bosses of gross misconduct and abuse of office, serious allegations that constitute the provisions for the removal from office of a county assembly speaker.

It all started in February when Kisii MCAs vowed to impeach speaker David Kombo over corruption and poor management.

They accused Kombo of allegedly presiding over irregular recruitment of workers when he was the County Public Service Board chairman.

At least 42 MCAs had signed the impeachment motion to remove Kombo, in what could have triggered a ferocious political turmoil for both Jubilee and ODM, which control the assembly.

However, a quick intervention by Governor James Ongwae and local leaders salvaged the situation

In June, Nakuru MCAs ganged up to impeach speaker Joel  Kairu for denying the representatives funds for benchmarking in foreign countries.

“We were allocated Sh15 million for foreign trips but only Sh9 million is available as the financial year comes to an end. Where did Sh6 million go? asked Biashara  MCA PeterNyaguthii then.

However, conciliatory meeting among local leaders led by Senator Susan Kihika, Nakuru West MM Samuel Arama and his Nakuru East counterpart David Gikaria saved the speaker.

At least 55 out of 78 MCAs had signed the petition to sack him but some changed their mind at the last minute.

In Kisumu, MCAs early last month plotted to impeach speaker Onyango Oloo but the move was thwarted by ODM, which stepped in at the last minute when the motion had been filed.

 The MCAs leading Oloo’s impeachment campaign were said to have beaten a hasty retreat after receiving phone calls from the party headquarters in Nairobi on August 8.

 Market Milimani MCA Seth Kanga had planned to table the motion in the county assembly on Tuesday afternoon. Several MCAs had thrown their weight behind the motion.

 In Migori, speaker Boaz Okoth who was re-elected Migori County Assembly Speaker in February in a court-ordered repeat poll after chaos marred elections last August, has been facing threats of impeachment.

The same situation is in Kakamega, Vihiga and Kilifi, where speakers have been warned by MCAs that they could be impeached because of failing to yield to their demands.

In Nyamira, MCAs last month impeached deputy speaker Duke Omoti over abuse of office claims, piling questions on the legality of post in the devolved system.

MCAs unanimously endorsed the motion that indicted  Omoti of misuse of power, incompetence, malice, pride and general abuse of office.

Even in this impeachment, questions had been raised on whether deputy speakers are protected in law.

In July, two High Court judges dealing with questions on the same ruled the post is not a "creature of law".

While inaugural county assembly MCAs who served in the early years of their 2013-17 term enjoyed huge perks because of lack of firm structures by the Transitional Authority, their current counterparts are a stark contrast.

MCAs, most of whom resigned from their high-flying careers to take up legislative roles at the county assemblies hoping for huge perks that were initially enjoyed by inaugural MCAs, the SRC slashed the pay drastically in a review last year.

Currently MCAs take home Sh144, 000 down from Sh166,000 with their sittings capped at a maximum of 8 sittings a week, in what has shrunk their take home at the end of the month.

Following elections last year that saw incumbents fell by the wayside, the current crop of MCAs are battling to influence operations of the assemblies and firm up their grip on mega contracts and employment opportunities.

The situation is further compounded in scenarios where MCAs picked new speakers in drastic changes of regimes to accommodate their interests as they assumed office with a full-in tray of both hopes and demands.

Feeling cheated, the MCAs have ignited a fresh round of impeachment threats that could paralyse operations at the devolved units.

“We have always advised our MCAs to always engage in dialogue before resorting to impeachments,” said ODM chairman John Mbadi.

The Suba South MP said the party was concerned that some MCAs have taken up such motions tools to intimidate and harass speakers whenever there is disagreement.

“As a party, we are determined to ensure our MCAs, as crucial pillars of devolution, work in harmony with their speakers to provide a conducive environment for growth at the counties,” he said.

In the second phase of devolution, rogue MCAs have triggered a fresh round of stalemate with some speakers working on borrowed time.

In the last term, the ward reps targeted governors through well-orchestrated impeachment threats, in what has often exposed their rapacity for handouts. The target now is in the their own House.

 In some instances, inherited county assembly clerks from the inaugural assembly, are working in cahoots with factions of members, in well-choreographed schemes to oust new speakers who have barely settled in office.

“It is true that in some instances where we have had newly elected speakers, MCAs want to bulldoze their way to get contracts and have their friends get jobs,” said political risk analyst Dismas Mokua.

Mokua asked political parties to strengthen engagements and establish platforms for regular dialogue at the counties to build synergy.

“If we can have political parties forums at the counties, where the members can easily engage their leadership on their problems we can be able to overcome these impeachment threats,” he said.

Determined Nairobi MCAs on Thursday defied pleas from Jubilee and ODM parties — the two main parties controlling the assembly — to drop their impeachment motion against speaker Beatrice Elachi.

Attempts by State House and ODM party leader Raila Odinga to step in to save Elachi were not headed, as Waithaka MCA Antony Kiragu tabled a motion for a her removal from office on Thursday afternoon. Some 103 MCAs out of the 122 Nairobi MCAs voted in support of the motion, two opposed the motion while two abstained from the vote, further cementing a deeper political crisis at City Hall.

Although Elachi’s lawyer rushed to the Labour Court earlier Thursday and obtained temporary orders suspending her impeachment, the ouster plot lifts the lid on the behind-the-scenes maneuvers rocking county assemblies just a year after their swearing-in.

On Friday, county speakers said they have been toying with the idea of making it impossible for MCAs to impeach them by raising the threshold of indictment.

Forum chair Johnson Osoi said they want to amend the law and add more processes other than 75 per cent.

He said a court must find a speaker culpable of violating the Constitution before removal from office, adding that such a provision is lacking in the County Government Act of 2012.

"In the absence of such determination, it is nonsense," he said.

Osoi proposed that a speaker must be required to appear before the Senate in case of removal, as there is no such requirement.

“What we are asking is the leaders to become responsible and uphold the law without abusing the powers to impeach,” he said.

For a speaker to be sacked, a notice must be given in writing to the clerk of the county assembly. It must be signed by at least one third of all the MCAs stating the grounds .

A motion for removal resolution is then presided over by any MCA.

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