The leadership tussle in the Kericho County Assembly has exposed undercurrents in the dispute between the executive and legislative arms of the devolved government.
In a bid to forestall a fully blown political fight, Kericho Governor Erick Mutai held a closed-door meeting on Wednesday evening with assembly Speaker Patrick Mutai and Deputy Speaker Erick Bett (Kapchebor ward) that lasted over four hours.
The matter has split members of the county assembly (MCAs) into those supporting the executive and others opposing it.
The meeting at the governor’s office came a day after Speaker Mutai approved a training workshop for 47 MCAs at Weston Hotel in Nairobi on vetting 12 nominees for chief officer, a seminar that would cost taxpayers over Sh2.6 million in allowances alone.
The meeting was also attended by MCAs Anita Biegon (Chesingoro), Cheruiyot Bett (Ainamoi), Gilbert Ngerich (Kisiara) and Hezron Ngetich (Chilchila.
Curiously, the leaders held hands in solidarity after the session, as shown in photos posted by Governor Mutai on his official social media pages on Wednesday night.
“The county executive and the county assembly shall work together in discharging their mandate to the great people of Kericho, even as we forge a unity of purpose amongst the leaders,” the governor wrote.
He added: “We will provide the Assembly with the support they require to execute their legislative oversight and representation role.”
It is understood that the meeting was prompted by several factors, including the emerging split in the assembly over leadership, the recent rejection of two nominees to the County Executive Committee (CEC) and a spat over the list of nominees for chief officer sent to the House for vetting.
Another issue that has caused a rift between the legislature and the executive is a case pending in the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nakuru over the swearing-in of CEC members.
It also comes a month after Governor Mutai entered a truce with his deputy, Mr Fred Kirui, following a two-month standoff.
Mr Kirui claimed the governor had sidelined him in the running of government. He claimed he had not been consulted in the nomination of CEC members despite an alleged pre-election agreement to run the government on a 60-40 per cent power-sharing ratio.
But the leaders reached a truce a day before President William Ruto and Deputy Rigathi Gachagua attended a prayer rally at the Kericho Green stadium last month. They are now seen to be working together.
On September 22, Londiani MCA Vincent Korir was unveiled as majority leader, while Haron Rotich was picked as majority whip at a retreat in Kisumu.
But Kapsoit MCA Paul Chirchir (alias Tarimbo) was last week elected majority leader by 24 of the 37 lawmakers, with his Kisiara ward counterpart Gilbert Ngetich bagging the majority whip position.
While Mr Chirchir is locked in a leadership battle with Mr Korir, Mr Ngetich has rejected his new position, saying Mr Rotich was the bona fide holder of the office of majority whip, throwing the House into disarray.
Ms Veronica Maina, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) secretary-general, sent a letter to Speaker Mutai disowning the changes in the House leadership.
“It is paramount to state that on November 9, 2022 UDA did not give guidance nor submit any formal proposals of names or changes to the leadership of Kericho County,” Ms Maina wrote in a letter dated November 14 in response to an inquiry made by Deputy Speaker Bett on November 10.
“In the circumstances, kindly but urgently be notified that any changes in the county assembly leadership, purportedly on the basis of a communication from the party is false, inaccurate and a violation of the UDA constitution,” Ms Maina stated.
Buoyed by UDA’s stance, Mr Korir insists he is in charge as the majority leader and that the purported changes were null and void.
“It has become very clear who the majority leader in Kericho is, with the party having clarified the issue, and we expect the Speaker to communicate to the members once we resume from the short break,” Mr Korir said on Thursday.
But Mr Chirchir has held his ground, saying he was duly elected majority leader by fellow MCAs and the Speaker had communicated the changes to the House and that only a court of law could overturn it.
“There are many stories flying around [on House leadership] but this matter has been concluded and [the position] is not about to change. It can only change if there will be another election in the future or the courts direct otherwise,” Mr Chirchir told the Nation.
Mr Chirchir claimed there was external interference in the running of the assembly and that it should be made clear that the legislature is not an appendage of the executive.
“The work of the assembly is very clear – legislation, oversight and representation – it is not an extension of the county executive. It cannot be managed externally as some people are attempting to do. That would not happen under my watch,” Mr Chirchir stated.
He added that “the wisdom of the Constitution was to have assemblies that are independent, to oversight the executive and legislate on behalf of thousands of voters”.
He rejected claims by his opponents that he was fighting Governor Mutai with his demands that the executive stick to the law on appointments, entering contracts, procurement and payment of current and pending bills.
“I am not fighting the governor. In fact, he is my friend. We will support him where he is doing well but will correct him where he is wrong. We cannot fight the executive but oversight it … there is a distinct difference. But oversight is not necessarily friendly,” Mr Chirchir said.
He said MCAs want a departure from previous practice by House leaders where he claimed the executive and the legislature had “politically gone to bed together to the detriment of residents on oversight and development”.
“We want to regain the independence of the assembly so the MCAs can discharge their mandate. If we are in the assembly and working to serve another master, then we would not discharge our duties well,” he said.
“We will respect and cooperate with the executive but would not allow any interference whatsoever. Those salivating that they will make Kericho an extension to do their own things should know that it would not happen.”
Two nominees to the CEC – Mr Lawrence Kipkoech Bii (Education, Culture, Libraries and Social Services) and Mr Bernard Bii (Trade Industrialisation, Innovation and Tourism) – were rejected by MCAs over claims of inexperience.
Governor Mutai forwarded the names of 10 nominees to the assembly for vetting on September 29, claiming the nominations were “a delicate balancing act between the youth and the elderly”.
The nominees who survived are Leonard Kipkoech Ngetich (Finance and Economic Planning), Daniel Kipkorir Rop (Agricultural, Livestock and Cooperatives Management), Rosemary Chepkirui Rop (Water Environment, Energy, Forestry and Natural Resources), Ednah Chepkirui Tonui (Health), Lawrence Kipkoech Bii (Education, Culture, Libraries and Social Services), Judy Chepkorir (Information, Communication and Technology, e-Government, Youth Affairs and Sports).
The others are Brian Cheruiyot Langat (Lands, Housing and Physical Planning), Erick Kipngetich Koech (Public Works, Roads and Transport) and Brenda Bii (Public Service Management).
Resident Bernard Kibet Rono sued in the Employment and Labour Relations Court and secured interim orders barring Governor Mutai, the county government, the Speaker and the assembly from swearing in the candidates.
“Pending the hearing and determination of this application, a temporary order of injunction be and is hereby issued restraining the fourth respondent from swearing in the 11 interested persons as Kericho County Executive Committee Members,” ordered Justice Hellen Wasilwa.
When MCAs return to the assembly on December 6, they are expected to start vetting 12 nominees for chief officer, a matter that is already causing political ripples in the region.