The power struggle between the national and county governments deepened yesterday when governors were blocked from signing cheques on behalf of their counties.
The circular limiting the governors' authority on their counties' financial resources was issued by the government in Nairobi even as the governors were staging a walk-out of an induction retreat at Naivasha to protest at the central government's overreaching its mandate.
Outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga accused elements within the Kibaki administration of attempting to undermine devolution by making county commissioners the legitimate authorities in the county instead of the elected governors.
The commissioners were controversially appointed by Kibaki last year. The High Court found their appointment was unconstitutional and ordered that they be revoked.
However, in contravention of the court order, Parliament went ahead to pass a law legitimizing the appointments.
Yesterday, Raila accused some elements of the Kibaki administration of trying to get rid of devolution so as to return the country to the "old centralization" that is responsible for the inequalities dogging the country.
"I want to warn our people not to take lightly the games being played over devolution. These forces will not let go unless they are forced to," he said during a meeting with county representatives elected under the Cord alliance at Crowne Plaza hotel in Nairobi.
He said the relationship between the two levels of government was supposed to be that of mutual respect, cooperation and constant consultation.
The governors are directly responsible to the people having been elected directly by them and therefore could not be subservient to county commissioners who had been appointed by the executive.
"There is an attempt to make governors either take orders from the county commissioners or play subsidiary roles to these agents of an outdated order," Raila said adding that Cord would continue to agitate for the full and undiluted devolution of power and resources to the counties.
"All governors, regardless of party, should hold their ground, stand firm and demand to be given full space and mandate to implement devolution agenda for their voters," he added.
According to the circular signed by the Transition Authority chief executive Stephen Makori and addressed to the Director of the Banking Division at the Central Bank of Kenya, governors were instructed to desist from all processes involving preparations of payments and signing cheques on behalf of their their counties.
This will now be the responsibility of the county chief finance offices who will be seconded to each of the 47 counties by the Transition Authority.
The circular provides that the controller of the budget only release funds to the counties only after receiving written instructions from the Transitional Authority and only to specified accounts.
"The Transition County Treasury written instructions shall bear at least two authorized signatories," the circular says. Counties have also been directed "to open a standing imprest bank account at a commercial bank which is credible, with wide network and which the government has interest in."
The commercial banks will only be used to collect revenue according to the circular, which will then be directly wired to Central Bank in the evening where all county payments will be made from.
The circular in effect brings to an end the previous system where the now defunct local authorities transacted their banking operations with various private commercial banks and not necessarily those which the government has an interest.
It also largely reduces the control that governors may have had over the county treasuries. In Naivasha, the governors led by Bomet's Isaac accused Kibaki of misleading the nation by insisting the government was 'unitary' since the constitution talked of a devolved system of government where counties were largely independent of control by the central government.
"We fear Kibaki is taking us back to 1963 and he should learn that the word unitary is nowhere in the constitution," he said. Nakuru governor Kinuthia Mbugua said counties were now independent. "We are ready to work with the provincial administration but they should accord us the respect we deserve as we are the ones in charge as devolution starts," said the former Administration police commandant.
The Justice ministry permanent secretary said both central and county governments were needed for the smooth running of the government and there was no need for any fallout as each role was clearly defined in the constitution.