Talks over counties' budget hit stalemate

National Assembly, Senate fail to agree and suspend discussions by a week for lobbying

In Summary

• National Assembly wants allocation reduced, senators want it increased. 

• Ten-member team formed to reach consensus clashes in first meeting. 

Parliament buildings.
Parliament buildings.
Image: FILE

Crucial talks between senators and members of the National Assembly to save the counties from a cash crisis have been suspended for a week for lobbying.

This is due to the failure to agree by members of the mediation team appointed to unlock the impasse between the legislators.

The two Houses have clashed over the Division of Revenue Bill 2019, threatening to starve counties of funds and paralyse their operations.

This prompted the appointment of the 10-member team by the speakers of the bicameral Parliament to strike a consensus.

Two weeks ago, the National Assembly rejected an attempt by the Senate to increase the allocation to counties by Sh20 billion, occasioning the standoff.

While the Senate wants the allocation to the counties in the next financial year increased from Sh314 billion to Sh335 billion, their colleagues in the National Assembly want the figure capped at Sh310 billion.

The Star has established that the 10-member team chaired by Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa clashed during its first meeting held last Thursday, leading to the suspension of the negotiations.

Both sides of the mediation team have stood their ground and vowed not to back down.

Proposals by Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika to scale down the Senate’s proposal to Sh227 billion was rejected by MPs.

Likewise, a proposal by Minority leader John Mbadi to increase the allocation from Sh310 billion to Sh316 billion was opposed by senators.

“The members of the National Assembly are still fighting for the national government while we are still fighting for the counties,” Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina, who is a member of the committee, told the Star. 

The talks will resume next Wednesday. By then, the committee hopes, it will have lobbied and negotiated on a figure.

“We want to try and talk to each other. We will even consult the President as we don’t want the counties to suffer because of issues we can talk about and resolve,” a committee member said.

Ole Kina was optimistic that the mediation team will reach a consensus and save the counties from financial problems.

“We will have a very good deal for the county governments to get more money. But they too must account for that money,” he added.

The team, which was appointed two weeks ago, has 21 days to strike a deal and present the same to the two Houses.

The allocation proposed by the National Assembly is the same amount proposed by the National Treasury. The institutions argue that the government is facing cash flow challenges, thus the need to slash the funds.

“We understand that the Senate has the duty to protect the counties. But the interest of the counties should not override our national interest,” Ichung’ wa, who also chairs the Budget committee, said.

But the senators say counties should not suffer because of the government’s failure to improve the cash flow. A similar position has been taken by the Commission on Revenue Allocation and the Council of Governors.

“You cannot allocate money backwards. There is inflation and all these other factors. The counties must receive Sh335 million,” nominated Senator Rose Nyamunga said.

Should the mediation committee fail to agree on a figure within the set timelines, the whole process of budget making will start afresh, a situation that could plunge the counties into serious financial problems. 

(Edited by R.Wamochie)