9 November 2017

Kenya: Why New Nyeri Governor Could Have a Deputy

Photo: Joseph Kanyi/The Nation
Nyeri Deputy Governor Mutahi Kahiga

Senators are preparing a bill to enable a deputy governor who takes over the running of a county to appoint an assistant.

The bill, being drafted by Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki and Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, could be tabled in the House for debate by next month.

Under the current law, a deputy governor automatically assumes office in case of death, resignation or impeachment of the governor.

There is no provision for a by-election or appointment of a deputy.

POWER

Mr Murkomen told the Nation that the law became urgent following the death of Nyeri Governor Wahome Gakuru on Tuesday.

The Elgeyo-Marakwet senator added that the law would strengthen the governance structure in counties.

If the bill, which is an amendment of the County Government Act, becomes law, it will give Nyeri Deputy Governor Mutahi Kahiga the power to appoint a deputy when he is sworn into office to complete Dr Gakuru's term.

Dr Gakuru is the second Nyeri governor to die in less than a year.

In February, Governor Nderitu Gachagua died while receiving treatment abroad and was replaced by his deputy Samuel Wamathai, who completed the term but lost during the Jubilee nominations to Dr Gakuru.

"The situation should not be allowed to continue," Mr Murkomen said. "This bill is of importance because it will be risky for Mr Kahiga to run the county alone."

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo said the law was necessary and that he had foreseen the problem when governors were being impeached.

IMPEACHED

"It occurred to us that deputy governors had little choice in the event their bosses were impeached, resigned or died while in office. A deputy governor who takes power in that fashion cannot appoint a deputy and he or she is predestined to run the affairs of the county alone," he said.

The senator drafted a constitutional amendment bill that addressed the issue but it made no progress.

"It died a natural death, even without being debated," Mr Kilonzo said yesterday.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko also suggested an amendment to the law.

"I am not conversant with the law but the Constitution has to be changed. We probably have to go for a referendum," Mr Sonko said.

"It is not in order that even before the mourning period lapses, the deputy governor has taken over."

The Nairobi County boss added that Nyeri residents and the nation needed adequate time to mourn their governor before his deputy took charge.

The salient point of the bill is to provide a mechanism for a deputy governor to appoint an assistant in cases where he or she takes over in the event of a resignation, impeachment or death of the county boss.

SIMPLE MAJORITY

Another proposal in the bill involves developing conditions under which such a deputy should be appointed, with the suggestion that it should only be done with the approval of the county assembly.

The proposed law will also strengthen the position of deputy governors. In the past they have complained of being sidelined by their bosses.

"The finer details of the bill are complete but I am still struggling on whether the assembly should make such approval through a simple majority or two thirds of the members," Mr Murkomen said.

Prof Kindiki said such an appointment should be by simple majority.

"It is the appointment of the governor and it will be unfair to put a high threshold to the county assembly," he said.

"Besides, the high threshold could prove tough for assemblies that have challenges of integration."

When Mr Gachagua died in February, Mr Wamathai assumed office and presided over the affairs of the county without the support of a deputy governor, raising fears that such an arrangement could lead to danger in the devolved governments.

PROPOSALS

The law gives the deputy governor assuming office sweeping powers to reconstitute the government through firing and hiring of executive committee members and chief officers.

On Thursday, the Council of Governors and the office of the attorney-general blamed each other over amendments that were proposed to the law long before the situation in Nyeri arose.

Council of Governors lawyer Peter Wanyama said Attorney-General Githu Muigai did not act on changes to the law that would have allowed deputy governors who become county bosses to appoint their assistants.

Mr Wanyama said early this year, Prof Muigai did not include the proposals that had been forwarded by the Kenya Law Reform Commission into the Statute Law (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill of 2017.

However, a source at the AG's office said the proposals were included in the bill and forwarded to Parliament through the commission.

"The Bill was submitted to the House and the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee and the team should explain how far it is in handling the amendments," said the source.

Additional reporting by Kennedy Kimanthi and Joseph Wangui

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