Governors under scrutiny over illegal ward development funds


Council of Governors Chair Anne Waiguru (center) flanked by Governor Muthomi Njuki (left), Governor Fernandes Barasa (right) and fellow governors addresses journalists in Nairobi on January 19, 2024. Governors have opposed some sections of the Social Health Act

Photo credit: FILE

What you need to know:

  • The governors, especially those serving their first terms, have been accused of secretly creating the illegal funds.
  • Establishment of these funds has been cited as the cause of disagreements among governors, senators, and MCAs.

More than 10 governors are facing scrutiny for allegedly running illegal multi-billion shillings ward development funds, defying constitutional bodies and the Office of the Controller of Budget (CoB)

The Ward Development Fund has been declared illegal, with the CoB emphasising that it is against the law for members of county assemblies to manage the fund in their wards, as their roles are strictly representation, legislation, and oversight.

Among the governors who have been adversely mentioned are Patrick Ole Ntutu (Narok), Fernandes Barasa (Kakamega), Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi) and Kimani Wamatangi (Kiambu)

Sources have told Nation.Africa that plans are underway to create the fund in Nakuru, Nandi, Embu, Murang'a, Laikipia, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga and Homa Bay counties.

The governors, especially those serving their first terms, have been accused of secretly creating the illegal funds, seen by many as a tactic to placate MCAs and hinder proper oversight.

The establishment of these funds has been cited as the cause of disagreements among governors, senators, and MCAs, with varying opinions on whether the funds are necessary or even legal.

With some of the Governors dogged by threats of impeachment motions, sources say, the county bosses have been using the funds to pacify MCAs.

"MCAs have in the past years demonstrated that they can end careers of Governors or make the counties ungovernable, therefore to silence them, county bosses use the illegal kitties and others like the bursary fund, to make them cooperate and also soften in their oversight role," revealed a senior county official in Narok County, who sought anonymity for fear of reprisal.

In some counties, governors have devised various pseudo names for the same kitty.

For instance, in Nairobi, it is called the 'Ward Development Program' (WDP), while in Kakamega it has been christened the 'Ward Improvement Fund Kitty.'

Whereas a section of governors and senators back the Ward Development Fund and have even set aside funds for the same, others feel it is unnecessary.

Governors who oppose the fund argue that it would give MCAs developmental roles, which fall under the jurisdiction of the county executive.

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya has stated that the fund is unnecessary and that allowing MCAs to manage it would compromise their oversight role. 

"All development happens in wards so it is superfluous. If MCAs manage the Ward Development Fund kitties, then it breaches the separation of powers and independence of arms of government. It also compromises the oversight role of MCAs," Natembeya said.

Similar sentiments have been echoed by Narok Senator Ledama Olekina, who termed the fund illegal, adding that the work of MCAs does not need such a kitty.

“The MCAs believe that they should be given something called Ward Development Fund to carry out their job. That fund is illegal. Their work is to legislate and oversight the executive and not to carry out the work of a governor,” said Mr Olekina.

According to Senator Olekina, Kenyans need to be informed of the mandates of an MCA to avoid conflict over duties they think should be handled by the ward representatives.

“We need to explain to the people on the ground so that they do not demand so much from the MCAs,” said the senator.

Former Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi also argues that there should be a separation of powers between MCAs and Governors.

"Everybody supports the Ward Development Fund, but the real question is about separation of powers. We should change the Constitution to have a hybrid system of government," said Mr Muriithi.

For years, MCAs have been pushing for the establishment of ward development funds, which they say would help spur development at the grassroots levels.

The ward representatives have been seeking to have the kitty in an arrangement similar to the National Government Constituency Development Fund currently at the disposal of members of the national assembly.

According to governance experts, the establishment of the kitty and other county-established funds, have played a role in stifling oversight on counties.

"Some Governors have used the development kitties to silence MCAs and interfere with their oversight role. They allocate them money and in the process stifle their ability to oversight them," said David Ngugi, a governance expert.

Nation.Africa learnt that in counties, where the kitty has not been established, the issue has been the cause of bad blood between the Governors and the MCAs.

In Meru County, MCAs are among those who have been pushing for a Ward Development Fund.

This has seemingly caused a row between them and Governor Kawira Mwangaza, which ended in a meeting summoned by Controller of Budget Dr Margaret Nyakang'o, where the MCAs were informed that the ward fund is illegal.

It emerged that Ms Mwangaza and the Meru MCAs disagreed on the establishment of the Ward Development Fund and the bursary fund.

Whereas Governor Mwangaza wanted the bursary fund to be consolidated for equitable distribution, the MCAs demanded for the Ward Development kitty to determine who gets bursaries.

The governor claimed MCAs had demanded the allocation of funds to be administered by them and threatened to derail her administration including declining to approve her cabinet.

However, she maintained that allocation to all projects should be informed by the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP).

In Kiambu County, a disagreement over the establishment of a kitty in November, 2023 fuelled a row between Governor Kimani Wamatangi and the MCAs, prompting Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua to intervene and broker a deal.

In Narok County, Governor Patrick Ole Ntutu has given MCAs in 30 wards, a total of Sh3 billion through the Ward Development Fund. This means each ward received Sh 100 million.

According to Mr Ntutu, the projects to be implemented using the funds were enshrined in the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP), that were prioritised by residents during public participation forums.

“Every ward has a specific project depending on their needs. Some wards prioritised the construction of roads, others hospitals, classrooms, water projects and sale yards. We will ensure that these projects are implemented as early as possible so that we can launch other projects,” said Governor Ntutu.

In Nairobi City County, Governor Sakaja allocated the kitty Sh2 billion in the 2023/2024 financial year for a ward development kitty.

This means each of the 85 elected MCAs gets Sh23 million for projects at the ward level.

In Kakamega County, Governor Barasa has offered Sh20 million to each ward through the Ward Improvement Fund kitty.

The money, according to the county boss, is meant for stimulating development in the sixty wards in the devolved unit.

In Tharaka Nithi County, Governor Njuki has also established a Ward Development Fund kitty for the 15 wards in the county, where each ward gets Sh15 million every financial year.

Out of this, Sh10 million is channeled directly to roads while the remaining Sh 5 million is used to fund the education sector by the MCAs in their respective wards.

During last year's Devolution Conference, a section of senators vowed to create legislation allowing MCAs to enjoy the Ward Development Fund kitties.

The Senators said at least 60 per cent of the shareable revenue disbursed by the National Treasury to county governments should be allocated to the wards, to accelerate development in the smallest units of devolution.

Led by Kiambu Senator Karungo Thang’wa, they termed the move as long overdue, saying that they will fight for speedy implementation of Ward Development Funds, to facilitate equity and fairness in all the 47 counties.

The senator assured MCAs that they will be in charge of 60 per cent of the sharable revenue disbursed to their respective wards to undertake projects.