Kericho Governor, deputy fall out days after being sworn in

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai speaking during the International Coffee day at Fort Tenan, Kipkelion West constituency on October, 1, 2022

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

An intense leadership row between Kericho Governor Erick Mutai and his Deputy Fred Kirui has boiled over.

Mr Kirui went public and confirmed that he and his boss had disagreed on managing the county affairs, adding that the two had not sat to discuss and agree on filling key positions in their government, especially the cabinet.

He revealed the existence of a pre-election 60-40 percent power-sharing agreement, claiming he had been sidelined by the governor in nominations to the County Executive Committee.

The names of the nominees have been forwarded to the assembly for vetting.

“Such actions and other related moves in the recent past have caused mistrust, discomfort and clearly dented our working relationship,” Mr Kirui said.

“It is unfortunate that this has happened at the beginning of our tenure when we ought to have been fixing the problems faced by our people.”

He said he disagrees with his boss on his approach to addressing the issues affecting the health sector, including medical supplies and the management of the county referral hospital, sub-county hospitals, health centres and dispensaries.

Other areas they disagree on are providing clean water to residents and roads.

Mr Kirui has not been seen at official functions presided over by Dr Mutai, in and outside the office, since they were sworn in almost two months ago.

The DG did not attend the swearing-in of members of the county assembly (MCAs) and the election of the Speaker, and was missing when the governor presided over the opening of the assembly and gave his first address, and the unveiling of nominees for the CEC members and the county secretary.

Mr Kirui failed to turn up for International Coffee Day celebrations at Fort Ternan in Kipkelion West constituency at the weekend, though the area is a few kilometres from his home. He is understood to have been attending to his private business at home.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Kirui also named the leaders who were instrumental in brokering a deal that saw him defer his gubernatorial ambitions to back Dr Mutai for the top seat so as to beat former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter in the April 14 United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party primaries.

Senate Majority Leader and Kericho Senator Aron Cheruiyot, former Roads minister Franklin Bett, gospel singer Pastor Joel Kimetto and former National Transport Authority (NTSA) director Job Chirchir were some of the leaders involved in midwifing the unexpected political marriage between Dr Mutai and Mr Kirui.

Kericho Deputy Governor Fred Kirui during the opening of Kisyet tea factory in Tegat, Bomet East constituency on June, 15, 2022. Mr Kirui has gone public over his political fallout with Governor Erick Mutai

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

Dr Mutai and Mr Kirui were seen as the front-runners in the fight for the UDA gubernatorial ticket.

As a result of the deal, Mr Keter, a former Kericho senator with a massive war chest, saw his political career go up in smoke as Dr Mutai garnered 126,038 votes against his 60,342.

Mr Keter has since kept a low public profile and his name did not feature on President William Ruto’s list of nominees to his Cabinet.

“It was agreed that upon being elected, we would share the county leadership in the ratio of 40 to 60 percent. From the onset, it was agreed that the government we were forming was going to be a negotiated one,” Mr Kirui stated.

He revealed that, like other members of the public and interested parties, he saw the advert for CEC positions and county secretary for the first time, suggesting that the pre-election agreement had been invalidated.

“In total disregard to the pre-election agreement, my negotiated share of the cabinet slots in the list that has been submitted to the County Assembly for vetting is not reflected,” Mr Kirui said.

The nominated CEC nominees include Dr Wesley Bor (County Secretary and Head of Public Service), Mr Leonard Kipkoech Ngetich (Finance and Economic Planning), Mr Daniel Kipkorir Rop (Agricultural, Livestock and Cooperatives Management), and Ms Rosemary Chepkirui Rop (Water Environment, Energy, Forestry and Natural Resources).

The others are Ms Ednah Chepkirui Tonui (Health), Ms Lawrence Kipkoech Bii (Education, Culture, Libraries and Social Services), and Ms Judy Chepkorir (Information Communication Technology, E-Government, Youth Affairs and Sports.

The others that Dr Mutai nominated are Mr Brian Cheruiyot Langat (Lands, Housing and Physical Planning), Mr Erick Kipngetich Koech (Public Works, Roads and Transport), Ms Brenda Bii (Public Service Management), and Mr Benard Bii (Trade, Industrialisation, Innovation, Tourism). Mr Vincent Kigen was appointed chief of staff.

“It is my firm belief that if we do not get it right from the beginning, we are unlikely to get it right along the way,” Mr Kirui said.

But he said that whereas it was the mandate of the governor to make the appointments, “he was morally obligated to consult me and to give effect to the pre-election agreement”.

He added: “As leaders elected to serve in different distinct capacities, we are obligated to respect and honour not only each other, but also our commitments to each other.

“I have decided to raise in public these weighty issues out of [the] tremendous respect I have for the people of Kericho county and the leadership they have installed in place for the next five years since we all need answers.”

By press time, Dr Mutai had not responded to the claims made by Mr Kirui, which have far-reaching political ramifications in the formative stage of their leadership of the county.

While opening the assembly last week, Dr Mutai called on MCAs to forge unity and work closely with the executive to deliver on their development agenda.

“I beseech you to live together in harmony as a House, as Kericho is known for its stability with a leadership that is committed to service delivery,” Dr Mutai stated.

“My administration submits to the authority of this House. I assure you that the executive will be in constant consultation with the legislature.”

At no point in the speeches he has made has the governor mentioned the name of his deputy, including when he addressed MCAs and while unveiling his nominees to the cabinet.

“I have compiled a list of professionals that are passionate, hardworking, humble in means but with rich ideas to help in the discharge of my mandate and deliver on our manifesto,” Dr Mutai said.

“I do not guarantee perfection, but I promise progress … Let us all move with speed to deliver the promise to the people as the clock has started towards the end of our five-year term in office.”

Sharing power, especially among leaders from the same political party, is tricky and the issue will test how the two leaders tolerate each other in the days ahead.