Members of the Kisumu County Assembly are on the spot over a one-week benchmarking trip to neighbouring Tanzania, with residents questioning their judgement on its timing.
The county legislators made the tour to benchmark on lake transport and how Kisumu residents can adopt the same in order to utilise the Lake Victoria resources which are at their disposal.
The tour comes amid concerns over rising Covid-19 infections in the Lake region and in the neighbouring country, as well as budgetary strains on county coffers occasioned by the pandemic which hit the country last year.
While it is still not clear how many MCAs went for the trip, the action has triggered condemnation from angry Kisumu residents who turned to social media, accusing them of wasting public resources and careless making decisions that do not help in the Covid-19 containment efforts.
The county assembly members and some county staff are said to have left Kisumu last week on July 26 and were to return on August 4 after completing their visit to Arusha and Mwanza.
Lost two members
The assembly recently lost two members of staff to what was suspected to be Covid-19 complications.
The county assembly is expected to respond to the residents' concerns in a comprehensive statement.
Three MCAs have defended the trip, saying they learnt a lot from the Tanzanian towns, contrary to claims that they went out just to bond.
Milimani Market Ward MCA Seth Adui Kanga, his Awasi Onjiko counterpart Maurice Ngeta and Kolwa East's Stephen Owiti had to cut short their trip to attend to other official functions in Kisumu and Mombasa.
The maintained that the team had been approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the assembly officially wrote to them over the same.
"The tour was beneficial to us. It is something we would want to implement back home. For instance, they have an elaborate Lake transport network which if we implement, will tremendously change the fortunes of our people and improve our economy," said Mr Kanga.
Coupled with the newly refurbished Sh3 billion Kisumu port, Mr Kanga said the revival of marine transport will create employment for the youth not only in Kisumu but in the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) counties.
He said the theme of the trip was picked jointly by Governor Anyang Nyong'o and county assembly Speaker Elisha Jack Oraro, who felt it was necessary ahead of the anticipated visit by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the county before the end of the year to launch the Kisumu port.
While on his recent visit in May, the President had promised to return to the lakeside region in August to launch the remaining projects initiated by the national government.
With this is mind, the county leadership felt that there was a need for Kisumu MCAs to experience first-hand and understand the port's visionary plan.
On whether the trip was timely, Mr Kanga said it was, "since it comes weeks before the President visits the region".
"We want to utilise our islands in Kenyan and use our counties bordering the lake to revitalise lake transport as opposed to (using) land throughout," said Mr Kanga.
Mr Owiti, who is also the chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, said the assembly usually works strictly on recurrent budget and not development, and, therefore, they should not be condemned for using the funds for what they were purposed to.
"These trips, whether foreign or local, are usually budgeted for and the money cannot be diverted for any other use. The trip will help us understand better the Lake Front Development Bill, which is before us, and make it better before we pass it," said Mr Steve Owiti.
Mr Owiti had to cut short his tour to attend another meeting in Mombasa on county emergency operations plan, which is bringing together at least nine counties.
He accused a section of the public and some leaders of being hell-bent on painting a bad image of the Kisumu MCAs as being wasteful.
MPs doing the same
Mr Ngeta, who is also the vice chairperson of the Welfare and Equal Opportunity Committee, said they should not be criticised because members of Parliament are doing the same.
"We urge Kisumu people to calm down since our aim is to get new ideas to implement back home and this we can only do when we go out there and not confine ourselves to Kisumu alone," said Mr Ngeta.
He added that being the city in the Lake Region economic bloc, they are supposed to act as an example for the rest and set the stage for the county regaining its economic hub status in the larger East Africa region.
At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, MCAs had demanded that the Ministry of Devolution withdraws guidelines restricting their travel outside the country, terming them unreasonable.
The call by MCAs came amid efforts to reduce wasteful spending in government.
Then, the County Assemblies Forum argued that the circular issued by Principal Secretary Charles Sunkuli was meant to curtail the ward representatives' foreign travel, saying county assemblies were not answerable to the Ministry of Devolution.
The county assemblies had not exceeded the expenditure ceilings set by the Commission on Revenue Allocation and were operating within the allocations on travel expenditure that were approved by the assemblies.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, there were further travel advisories limiting their movement.
This has since changed.