INTERVIEW

We'll change law to hold governors accountable - Senator Cheruiyot

At only 29 years, Cheruiyot gunned down veteran politicians Sammy Chepkwony, Franklin Bett and Magerer Lagat

In Summary

• Senator Cheruiyot says the bad manners of the centralised government have been devolved to the counties. 

• Says administration that has been there, it's only the cronies of those close to the governor that have reaped the fruits of devolution.

Elgeyo Marakwet senator Kipchumba Murkomen and his Kericho counterpart Aaaron Cheruiyot on October 6,2022.
Elgeyo Marakwet senator Kipchumba Murkomen and his Kericho counterpart Aaaron Cheruiyot on October 6,2022.
Image: KIPCHUMBA MURKOMEN/FACEBOOK

​Had everything gone according to his plan, Senator Aaron Cheruiyot would only have made his political debut in the August 9, 20220 elections.

But as fate would have it, the resignation of Charles Keter as Kericho Senator to take a Cabinet job opened a window that through a Facebook post, Cheruiyot was gassed up and he gave it a shot. He didn't miss it.

At only 29 years of age, Cheruiyot gunned down veteran politicians Sammy Chepkwony, Franklin Bett and Magerer Lagat in the Jubilee nominations and went on to beat Paul Sang of Kanu.

He is now the man trusted by President William Ruto to lead his troops in the Senate as the Majority leader. 

The Kericho senator spoke to Eliud Kibii about his political journey, his priorities and his thoughts on current issues.

THE STAR:  Your entry into politics through a by-election was quite interesting. Little-known youth beating veterans Franklin Bett and Magerer Langat. How was that journey?

 AARON CHERUIYOT: I was 29 then. I had been active in student politics during my [Moi] university days and by then, I didn't expect that my entry into the national space would be that soon. 

By my own plans, I thought  2022 was the year I would vie for MP but then an opportunity came when Charles Keter resigned and was appointed to the Cabinet.

I asked my friends in a Facebook post — that is still there — what they thought about me vying.

So many people in their thousands said,  "My friend doesn't think twice about it, please go for it".

In the morning, I reached out to all the networks in Kericho because prior to that, I had never lived in the county. I grew up in this city [Nairobi], was born here, and went to school here, but of course, I have family connections. I also went to Kericho  High School.

In 2012, I worked in Jonah Keter's campaign as the head of the secretariat. He was running for governor, so working in his campaign opened up my mind to exactly what is county politics and what you need to do. I knew what was needed and prepared for a battle. I pulled resources from a few friends and colleagues' small-time contributions and went into it.

At this point, you're not known to William Ruto?

I shook William Ruto's hand for the first time after I secured the Jubilee ticket. I had never met him in person. We only met after the Jubilee nominations.

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot
Image: HANDOUT

How is your experience now in your third term in the Senate? Not many legislators get the third term.

It hasn't been easy. You have to work extremely hard but also, you have to keep in touch with the people, especially those that you represent and serve their interests. I think I have served my people well.

I have addressed many of their issues and pushed for better tea earnings through the Tea Bill, which I sponsored. They felt more represented and that's why they sent me back to Parliament so that we can continue with the journey because we have not completed the reforms. 

Farmers continue to earn way below what is due to them. I want to focus broadly on making agriculture work for the farmer, which has been the missing nexus in our country.

We have good farmers, but nobody has set up policies to make them enjoy the fruits of their labour. Kenya is very much a brokers' market. It's a broker who makes the most money. You can look at sugar, coffee and milk and it is the same problem.

There are still some issues with the Tea Board. What do you think needs to be fixed?

The setup of the board. The former Agriculture CS had a different idea about how you arrive at the representatives. Actually, it's only two members that are still missing representatives. We have two categories of producers — large-scale and small-scale.

The small scale is represented on the board but the large-scale producers either the multinationals or the independent producers are fighting over who should have representation and that position hasn't been agreed on.

So when that came up, the Kenya Tea Growers Association went to court and that matter is yet to be resolved.

The other issue is a formula for arriving at the representative of the East African Trade Association. The minister felt he should have the power to pick from amongst them but the tea trade association has a different position: That they should be allowed to choose the representation.

That's a small matter which I think  CS [Mithika] Linturi will handle and I've spoken to him about it.  He should be able to quickly resolve.

CHERUIYOT PROFILE

Aaron Cheruiyot was born on February 23, 1986 to Joel Kipkoskei, a tea farmer and Mary Koskei a teacher.

Cheruiyot went to Unity Primary School and later joined Kericho High School for his secondary education. He proceeded to Moi University for his BA Language and Literary Studies.

He was active in students politics unsuccessfully vied for the Moi University Students Organization (MUSO) chairman in 2008. He lost out narrowly to Moses Orango.

He graduated in 2010 and joined Kenya Institute of Management in 2010 for a diploma in marketing.

Arona, as he is fondly known among his friends, established the Africana Savana Tours Safaris, in May 2012 soon after quitting his sales job at Radio Africa Group.

He is also a director at Top Image Cleaning Services in Nairobi.

Source: Kericho County Government 

You have now been given quite a huge responsibility as the leader of the Majority in the Senate. What are your agenda and priorities?

To firm up devolution. In the minds and hearts of Kenyans, we are at a particular place where citizens are disillusioned. 

People can see and appreciate devolution meant well for the country but a random conversation with almost every other Kenyan will tell you we have not sufficiently set up systems that hold governors to account to ensure for every resource sent to the counties, most of it is going to the public good.

We still have a situation where we transferred the bad manners of the centralised government to the counties. 

You'll find for every administration that has been there, it's only the cronies of those close to the governor that have reaped the fruits of devolution. And this is across all 47 counties.

Now that we know and understand our role as the Senate, we know what we need to do to set up structures of oversight and hold governors to account.

This is especially sensitizing citizens to know what is the Annual Development Plan, how you ensure it is available so that citizens know that in this financial year, the money allocated to a ward is X amount, this is the project and this is what it will cost.

If we can succeed to push our citizens and our senators to push that conversation out so that people begin to demand better services, projects that are cost-effective demand for projects that are life-changing to the ordinary citizens, then we will say we have done our bit.

This business of waiting for auditor general's report to come before the Senate, then you  question the governor based on those questions, that model is not working.
Senator Aaron Cheruiyot

How are you going to succeed in doing that?

We are actually rethinking the whole framework of how governors are held to account before the Senate.

This business of waiting for the auditor general's report to come before the Senate, and then you questioning the governor based on those questions, that model is not working.

We are either going to create a separate committee or even use the County Public Accounts Committee at least annually, governors come to give the response to the assessment of their ADP.

Before you do the next financial year's budget, you're able to tick and measure what is it that you are able to achieve. What can you list as your deliverables to ordinary citizens?

Because you hear this clamour of, for example, about certain areas that want to separate themselves from their main counties because apart from just a few people benefiting, the rest are left out.

They are due to the configuration and nature of certain counties like Garissa, Migori, Lamu and many of the pastoralist communities because of clan-based politics.

We must hold governors to account.

We want to make it mandatory for governors, the same way the President comes before Parliament once every year and gives an account of the programmes that his government has run, also enumerating what plans they have. 

We want to make it mandatory and this is an amendment that is already being processed, within the circles of Parliament and should be out beginning of the next session of Parliament for governors actually, to file their reports with the Senate.

There will be a committee that will pull together as a team and interrogate how much has been spent on development and recurrent expenditure.

We also want to address the emerging challenges in the transition. For example, we are in December. Governors were sworn in the last week of August, 14 days after the elections. But most governors have not been able to fully constitute their cabinets. Don't even talk about chief officers, because none has succeeded.

There are issues that are arising about gender inclusion and that of PWDs. 

The case of Nakuru is such a sad example. That almost four months down the line, the governor is still not able to appoint CECs because of the court process.  I think this is a conversation that needs to be held.

Senator Aaron Cheruiyot and Roads CS Kipchumba Murkomen during Kiptoyot Cup at Kericho Green Stadium on December 4
Senator Aaron Cheruiyot and Roads CS Kipchumba Murkomen during Kiptoyot Cup at Kericho Green Stadium on December 4
Image: TWITTER

How will you ensure devolving  of all county functions and funds?

It's a, it's a challenge that we need to address with the Treasury. Last time, we asked The treasury whether they could either create a specific fund and poll of resources, where once revenue is collected, it goes into that specific fund purely for devolved units, such that you don't have to compete with the resources of national government.

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The National Treasury is still under the control of the Executive. It is not an independent office. So, on many occasions when there is a scarcity of resources, they will first consider the national government before thinking about the counties. That presents a problem because counties same time don't have the ability to collect revenue by themselves.

We need to create a fund where every time collections are made. It is known that the expected offtake for this month is x amount of Shillings. and that money is sent directly to the fund.

On this other issue about resources that are left, you are aware that there's a case at the Supreme Court between the National Assembly and the Senate and part of what we are contending as a Senate is that we need to be part and parcel of the budget-making process. Either jointly with the National Assembly or separately.

We are almost agreeing on a way out, but the beauty is that once we reach and place of agreement, it will make our life easier because we shall now be in a position to interrogate the budget and say, we know, for example, Ministry of Agriculture is only left to the policy elements. Why should we retain such huge amounts at the expense of certain counties?

You can say the same about health,  roads and water.

There has been a dispute between the National Assembly and the Senate, how are you going to solve it?

We have made a proposal as the Senate. We have made an offer to the National Assembly because the whole debate revolves around the interpretation of Article 110 on whether a building concerns counties or not and whether it is a money Bill or not.

We have made our interpretation of how we think it should be handled. It's now before the Speaker of the National Assembly who is very also supportive and understands these issues.

So I hope his team are finalizing the paperwork and it is my hope by end of this month, we should be closing that chapter.

And will you pursue having the Senate as the Upper House?

Of course not. Not at this point, you choose your battles wisely. Let's fight for what is possible now, the rest will deal with later.

The importation of GMOs appears to have split Kenya Kwanza lawmakers, especially those from the Rift Valley and Western. What is your position?

It is a new field, a completely new policy direction for the country with very little information available for people to read and appreciate what is it that the Cabinet considered before making this decision.

What I think needs to be done is first of all sufficient information from the government to ordinary citizens on what GMOs are because I have read and sufficiently feel comfortable about it.

I am now more comfortable, more understanding and more appreciating what it means for us as a country with the whole problem of food security. But of course, the thing that I'm not properly satisfied with is whether we have put in place efficient measures so that these foods are not either abused or land in the wrong hands.

The people are concerned that it may land in the wrong hands. Then there are people who can be modified differently to a point that it's no longer fit for human consumption. They are safety concerns there.

Raila has called for the reinstatement of the suspended IEBC commissioners. Kenya Kwanza says the tribunal should be let do its job. What is your reaction to this?

I think the Constitution is quite clear and let's not lose sight of what happened. A petition was presented before the National Assembly. Kenyans followed the events of August 15, during the announcement of the results and the fight that ensued in the commission.

The came the ruling by the Supreme Court. And based on what the court eventually said some petitioners went and built a case and presented a constitutional petition because this is provided for in our Constitution. 

The National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs committee considered that petition and they found that it had merit. It thus recommended the formation of a tribunal for the facts to come out more clearly.

Then plenary of the National Assembly agreed with the decision of the committee, which was to set up a tribunal to investigate their conduct. So, what is this culture of cherry-picking which articles of the Constitution to follow and which not to follow?

As we speak, up to now, everything that has been done has followed the dictates of the Constitution. If Francis Wanderi and Irene Masit feel that they shouldn't resign and feel they don't have any fears as they have a solid case against the petitioners, let them go and appear for those that have resigned. 

And I don't think it stops the tribunal from doing its work. They still must appear and give an explanation about what really happened. 

You are Bunge FC captain. What is the ailing and solution to Kenya's sports sector?

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot in action.
Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot in action.
Image: MOSES WETANGULA

The solution is for the minister to crack the whip on federations.

They are number of them that have rogue officials who through court cases don't want to be held to account. They're federations that have not held elections in close to 10 years. So the minister must present to us as Parliament, a legislative proposal.

Some of these officials have become a law unto themselves. So, I hope the minister will crack the whip. 

How will you endeavour to command respect across the political divide and get the agenda of the president to sail smoothly?

Well, respectfully, engage your colleagues. Not to have them feel as if you're looking down on them because of maybe the position of privilege you have. But above all, engage deeply in and out of the chambers because I've come to realise the more you engage people, the more you understand them.

And we really don't disagree. In fact, the only times we disagree in the Senate is when it's a matter of interest to the party leadership. But on most occasions, especially on things to do with the devolution, we speak with one voice. 

You are widely referred to in media circles as a 'close ally' to the President. What is your relationship with President Ruto?

I would say it is professional, it's not too social.

Of course, we have a social relationship as well but one of a leader in the party and the coalition that I belong to but majorly, the most motive interaction is actually in professional circles.

We have walked the journey together during the difficult days when he was being undermined in government. We went out and stuck our necks out together with the team that he put together.

So, I'm just a team member in his team like many other people. And knowing William Ruto, and I think I know him extremely well, he is not a man that creates favourites. He interacts very closely with almost everyone and he compartmentalizes his mind on how and what he deals with you, especially in terms of region. He knows that when he wants to deal with issues in a particular region, these are the people he speaks to and these are the issues.

Even without favourites, the President has surrounded himself with young politicians like you and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro. Is it deliberate?

The President is very passionate and very intentional about mentorship. He follows what you say and when you resume your seat, let's say you're in a public gathering, he will correct you and say, "please don't use that kind of language", or "if you said it this way, it will have come out better".

He is also keen on how you dress and how you look.

Mentorship is not something that you go and ask from somebody. You make yourself available for it.  If you're active and he sees what you're trying to do, whenever he gets a chance, he speaks to you.

He's very forward-thinking about what will be the place of the country in another eight, or nine years. When those of his generation move, how safe will the country be?

So it is something he is very intentional about and maybe that is what other people consider to be favourites. But as I said, with mentorship, if you are available, you'll be mentored, if you choose to make yourself visible to him and active, then he spends his time with you on many occasions.

For example, how my own relationship with him has grown is that on many occasions, I used to go to TV stations, and engage people and out of the blue, he just watches and calls and says, "I really enjoyed that discussion. I followed but maybe on this particular question. This is what you should have said".

 

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