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Friday, May 8, 2015

Uncertainty over legality of budget process as MPs differ with senators on county billions

The crucial talks to salvage the national budget for the next financial year had to be postponed for a fortnight following a bad-tempered disagreement between senators and members of the National Assembly in the team appointed by both Houses to reach a compromise on how much money counties should get.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi threw the spanner in the works when he told MPs that it will be wrong for them to go ahead and look at the Sh2.1 trillion budget estimates without a law in place to determine the sharing of money between the national government and the 47 county governments.
"The law is very clear that the counties and the national government should prepare budget estimates as per the Division of Revenue Act. That Act is not in place. Whatever they'll be doing will therefore be preparatory works," said Muturi just after Majority Leader Aden Duale tabled the budget estimates of the National Executive and those of the Judiciary.
LEGAL SHORTCUTS
The Speaker's warning about the legal shortcuts came at a time when the Division of Revenue Bill 2015 is still under mediation, after the two Houses disagreed over whether to give the counties Sh283 billion as the National Treasury and the National Assembly agreed; or whether to increase the amount to Sh291 billion as the Senate had proposed.
Muturi warned the chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee Mutava Musyimi, who is leading the National Assembly's three-member team to the mediation that if they fail to make a deal, then the process will have to begin afresh.
"The mediation process is fraught with the danger of disagreement in the committee and in both Houses. I am not spelling doom but that is the reality," said Muturi, noting that the law is clear that if there's no deal in 30 days, then the Bill which has been worked on since February will just collapse.
After only two meetings, the six-member mediation committee, with equal numbers from the National Assembly and the Senate, sharply disagreed when members of the National Assembly insisted that the Senators' bid for Sh291 billion for the counties was not backed up by facts.
The chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee in the National Assembly, Mr Mutava Musyimi (Mbeere South), who chaired the meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in Nairobi's County Hall said the verdict on the Division of Revenue Bill, 2015 had to wait.
"I had hoped that we would have had a deal today, (Thursday) but it looks like it will take much longer to negotiate and get a compromise. We have 30 days to do so, and so far only two have passed," Musyimi told me shortly after the talks collapsed.
Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale who attended the meeting as part of the three-member Senate team said the MPs from the National Assembly had wanted to force the senators to drop the call for more cash and go for the Sh283 billion that the National Assembly and the government approved to be devolved to the counties.
"The proposals of the Senate for more money to the counties were rejected by the representatives of the National Assembly. They stood their ground and told us that they were not going to budge. As senators, we said, if they take a hardline stance, it appears they did not have the intention of listening to us and hearing our side out. That's why the meeting collapsed," Khalwale told me.
Those familiar with the budget process said the mediation committee has 30 days to make a decision, and if they reach a decision quickly, then the National, which took a break Thursday for a month, will be recalled from its break to approve the Bill.
THE CRUX OF DISAGREEMENT
In the three-hour meeting on Thursday, the senators insisted that they could pinpoint the source of the Sh7.7 billion that they wanted submitted to the counties for emergencies and as conditional grants for Level Five hospitals.
"We told them that the Sh4 billion under the national government for contingency should be shared between the two levels of government equally because counties are the first line of defence when disasters strike," said Khalwale when we spoke.
The fear is that the delay in the Division of Revenue Bill, 2015 will foment uncertainty in the budgeting within the 47 county governments, because without the enactment of the Bill, the counties cannot know for sure how much they are going to get.
The team from the National Assembly comprises Musyimi, his deputy Mary Emaase (Teso South) and MP Tom Joseph Kajwang (Ruaraka). That of the Senate has Dr Boni Khalwale (Ikolomani), Mutahi Kagwe (Nyeri) and the majority whip Beatrice Elachi (nominated).


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