Having failed to appear before a Senate committee on Monday, Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati has now been summoned to appear before the panel next week over a revenue standoff pitting the assembly against the executive.
Mr Wangamati, who had been invited alongside the county assembly team to appear before the Senate Committee on Finance on Monday, skipped the session, saying he was committed.
In a ruling delivered by Migori Senator Ochillo Ayacko, the vice-chairperson of the committee, the governor was asked to appear in person on June 24.
Failure to appear, Dr Ayacko said, would attract further sanctions against the governor, including fines.
“We shall also be inviting the Controller of Budget to attend our meeting next Thursday to give us an update on the disbursement of funds to the Bungoma County Assembly,” Dr Ayacko said.
Read: MCK asks Wangamati to respect press freedom after journalist ‘threatened’
MCAs have accused the governor of refusing to release money meant to pay assembly staff and run its operations.
In a letter to the Senate, Mr Wangamati said he will appear in the first week of July via video link, a move that angered senators.
Part of the letter read: “I already had another program so I am not able to appear on the said date.”
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula, a member of the committee, said the governor was taking the Senate for granted.
“His first priority should be to the Senate. He is a continuously offensive governor who is so full of himself. He needs to be summoned to appear at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.
Other senators at the meeting, among them Rose Nyamunga, and Haji Farhiya Ali, said the governor’s decision to stop revenue flow to the county assembly had resulted in unnecessary pain and suffering.
“Why is he frustrating the county assembly? We shall ensure the county assembly gets its share of resources to perform the oversight role,” said Senator Farhiya
Senator Nyamunga said the Senate, as the custodian of devolution, will ensure county assemblies are protected from interference by governors evading oversight.
The senators want the Public Finance Management Act amended to delink the executive from any approvals of county assembly funds.
“We are in the process of amending the PFM Act so that county assemblies are more free in accessing and managing their own funds,” Senator Wetang’ula said.
The assembly team that appeared before the Senate committee was led by Speaker Emmanuel Situma, Clerk John Mosongo, Majimbo Okumu (chair, public administration committee), Barasa Mukhongo (chair, finance committee) and Jack Wambulwa (chair, budget and appropriations committee).
“All our operations are currently paralysed. We have not paid salaries and our suppliers are on our necks. The governor has also hired goons who are going around threatening MCAs. This has to stop immediately,” Mr Situma said.
The governor has denied this allegation in the past.
Mr Situma has accused Mr Wangamati of instructing the county’s chief officer for finance not to approve the assembly’s monthly exchequer requests for onward transmission to the Controller of Budget for April and May, hence crippling its operations.
The other issue that will be addressed by the Senate committee is the diversion of Sh391 million approved for May salaries by the Controller of Budget.
But Mr Wangamati, through communication director Tim Machi, said the delay in salaries was not the governor’s fault.
“The supplementary budget forwarded to the county assembly in January factored in all these salary changes but unfortunately, it was only passed in March and not as was forwarded, but with changes that made it impossible to pay salaries in the said departments,” he said.
The county chief said since no money can be spent without being appropriated by the county assembly, his hands were tied.
“While we have salaries for all the other departments, we feel it will be wrong and unfair to have officers in some departments paid their salaries to the exclusion of others on account of a technicality that can be addressed,” he said.
“I wish to ask our officers to exercise patience even as we work at ensuring this impasse is resolved,” he said.
He insisted that the dispute could have been avoided if the supplementary budget had been passed as planned.
“One of the measures this government took at the onset of our term was to create a salary buffer that ensured Treasury always had two months’ salary to cushion our officers from the erratic cash flow that has been a challenge with devolution,” Mr Wangamati explained in a press release, saying it was the reason staff did not go without pay even when other counties were struggling.
Even then, the county chief said, money meant for salaries had not been diverted to any other project.
“This kind of misinformation should be dismissed with utmost contempt,” he said.