Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok was thrust into national politics when he took over leadership in the county following the death of Governor Joyce Laboso on July, 29, 2019.
Prof Barchok has not had a smooth ride in running the agriculturally endowed county faced with socio-economic and political challenges, with the shadows of the first governor, Mr Isaac Ruto, the Chama Cha Mashinani party leader, and Dr Laboso, who was a former deputy speaker of the National Assembly, looming large.
His leadership and administrative skills were put to the test on January 10, when he hosted Deputy President William Ruto at a rally in the Bomet Green Stadium, which turned chaotic, with a section of leaders jeered by the crowd as they attempted to speak.
It opened the lid on the political currents pitting him against Mr Ruto, who despite having led his CCM party back to Dr Ruto in his bid to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, has refused to fold the party in favour of the DP’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.
Prof Barchok, a curriculum expert and former Chuka University dean of students, in an interview with the Nation’s VITALIS KIMUTAI, opens up on his political journey, fitting into the shoes of his former boss, the bungled reception of the DP, and the bid to retain his position in the August elections through the UDA party.
There are claims you are not cut out for elective office, having been plucked from the university to be the late Dr Joyce Laboso’s running mate in the spirit of regional (constituency) balancing. How exactly did you end up in politics?
By training I am a teacher. In my life, I did not know that I would end up in politics. But due to my training background, I have quickly adapted and fit in.
I joined politics three months to the General Election in 2017 as Dr Laboso’s running mate (while serving as a dean of students at Chuka University) and we were eventually elected to office.
There is the matter of how, after taking over leadership following the death of Dr Laboso in July, 2019, you subjected the entire Cabinet to a fresh vetting, with the result that only four out of nine members survived. Can you clear the air on that?
I did not sack the County Executive Committee (CEC) members as is claimed. Unknown to many, once a governor leaves office through natural attrition, resignation or impeachment, the Cabinet stands dissolved.
Allegations abound that the executive arm of the county government has been arm-twisted by the Legislature and that members of county assemblies (MCAs) are no longer conducting their oversight role because they have been awarded tenders for major projects in their wards. Comment.
That is not true. There are those who claim I have arm-twisted the Legislature and vice versa. Government tenders are given to specific companies and nothing shows that MCAs are directors of the ones undertaking various projects in the county.
You are seeking the UDA ticket in the party primaries. Are you confident the nomination will be free and fair?
Deputy President William Ruto, the UDA party leader, has been very clear the nomination will be free and fair and party members will pick leaders they prefer for the various positions.
The reception of Deputy President William Ruto on January 10, 2022, was chaotic, right from your office, where your perceived opponent – Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party leader Isaac Ruto was briefly caught in a scuffle as county security officers attempted to block him from accessing the offices. Did you give instructions to the officers to bar some leaders from attending the pre-rally consultative meeting?
When Dr Ruto arrived, he was to sign a visitors’ book in my office and we had reserved a room for six visitors.
But Isaac (Ruto) wanted to force his way into my office in the company of 12 bouncers. We would have allowed him alone, as a former governor, but not with goons. That was not civil … In fact, if you watch that video, you will see he wanted to go ahead of the Deputy President.
It was unfortunate, but I did not give instructions to bar any leader from accessing my office.
At the Bomet Green Stadium, there was a standoff, with a few leaders being allowed to speak, and the crowd seemingly opposed to the push to elect all the candidates on UDA tickets in the next General Election. Is that indicative of the expected voting pattern on August 9?
The rally was a UDA affair from the word go. It is unfortunate that visitors (CCM party members) interfered with the programme. It was not my meeting, but that of the DP, who is the party presidential candidate.
What happened was an embarrassment not only to us but to the Deputy President.
Having publicly apologised to the DP for the chaotic reception, do you plan to host him in the county again before the UDA primaries?
The DP can decide to come to Bomet any time.
Are your differences with Mr Isaac Ruto personal?
No. I always give him his respect when we meet in public. Our differences are in the way we perceive things. He has been in politics for 20 years, and I have been around for only four years.
During campaigns with Dr Laboso, you promised the people, as a major plank of your manifesto, that within the first 100 days, the residents will have clean, piped and safe to drink water. Has that been attained?
Water was one of the seven pillars of our manifesto. I am happy we have made progress, upgraded the infrastructure with support from the national government and development partners.
In Konoin we have the Chebangang water project – to serve Kimulot, Boito and Chepchabas civic wards – where we have invested Sh380 million with Kenya Red Cross society. The Sh1.78 billion from the Africa Development Bank has been channeled to expansion of the Bomet-Longisa-Mulot water pipelines to serve 216,000 residents. We have done fairly well.
Bomet County has been involved in a long-running standoff with Kericho County over the supply of water from Itare project in Konoin Constituency. Kericho has repeatedly accused your administration through the Bomet Water and Sanitation Company (Bomwasco) of disconnecting water to the Kericho Water and Sanitation Company (Kewasco). Why have you not resolved this issue?
I cannot say we are fighting over this resource. The main issue we have is the facilitation for the resource from Itare water project to get to the people. We (Bomet) pay electricity bills that we are supposed to be sharing, but Kericho has not honoured its part. Kenya power has repeatedly disconnected electricity supply for non-payment of bills. Kewasco owes Bomwasco Sh50 million, which it has refused to service.
There is the question of stalled projects funded by the county government. The stickiest one is the IAAF stadium, with claims it has been taken over by the Bomet University College even after the county spent Sh250 million. Why has the county not allocated funding in the last four years to complete the stadium?
An audit was done to establish the amount of money used by the former administration and the structural integrity (of the project).
It is not clear how much money was used to construct the stadium while part of the structure was condemned. Part of the land it stands on is owned by the university, but we have been engaged on how we can complete the project and share in its management and use.
The county and the World Vision funded a sweet potato processing plant at a cost of Sh27 million in Sigor ward of Chepalungu. What happened?
The project is complete and has been handed over to the county government.
You bypassed the national government and went ahead to ink a deal with the Iranian government to export tea. What is in the deal?
Memorandum of understanding
As a county, we have over-relied on our traditional tea markets despite emerging trade challenges. Iran is faced with a trade embargo, but it does not affect the areas of food and medicine. There is a huge market potential in Iran for Kenyan tea.
Initially, I engaged the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) top management, but due to reforms, they refused. We turned to private factories from the county and we shipped out the produce. There was a lot of politics in the Agriculture ministry and locally, but we surmounted them. We travelled to Iran to receive the consignment and factories are currently exporting the tea.
You were engaged in a public spat with Cabinet secretary for Agriculture Peter Munya over the tea exports. The CS described the deal as fake. Was the matter resolved?
We engaged the ministries of Foreign Affairs to ratify a memorandum of understanding (formal trade agreement) with one of the tea producing provinces in Iran, but the documents have for the last 13 months been accumulating dust on government shelves with no feedback.
If our engagement was fake, then I am sure the Tea Board of Kenya (TBK) would not have led a delegation of businessmen and technocrats to Iran after we clinched the export deal.
Has the national government fulfilled its pledge to partner with the county in construction of the Dr Laboso Memorial Centre at the Longisa county referral hospital?
President Uhuru Kenyatta promised the national government would support the county to actualise the Dr Laboso Memorial Centre, but we have repeatedly followed it up in vain.
Regarding Covid-19, you have surplus oxygen in health facilities, while other counties are grappling with shortages. How did you get it right?
The initial oxygen plant at Longisa county referral hospital was set up in 2015. But a major facility installed in 2019 produces 9,000 litres of oxygen per hour, which is enough to run Kenyatta National Hospital with a surplus of 1,000 litres. All beds in Longisa hospital are connected to oxygen. We supply oxygen to health facilities in the South Rift, besides refilling tanks free of charge for ambulances that are on transit from other counties.