Power wrangles at Homa Bay, Migori assemblies spill over to the courts

Anti riot police man Homa Bay County Assembly compound on June 7, 2022 during a sitting where MCAs made leadership changes at the House. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group.

Power wrangles at the Homa Bay and Migori county assemblies have spilled over to the courts, with the clerks of the two legislative institutions alleging a plot by MCAs to loot a total of Sh200 million.

Court documents filed in two separate cases by the clerks claim assembly members were plotting to illegally pocket at least Sh100 million from each of the two legislative institutions.  

Homa Bay County Clerk Faith Apuko claims in 92-page court papers that her attempted removal from office is part of a well-orchestrated plan to loot some Sh100 million from the assembly’s coffers to facilitate the MCAs’ trip to Tanzania.

Ms Apuko on June 16 obtained orders blocking her removal from office until the matter is heard in court on July 12.

However, five days after the court order, on June 21, the MCAs convened to deliberate on the removal of the Clerk in a chaotic session where the police had to be called in to restore order.

The Clerk accuses Assembly Speaker Elizabeth Ayoo See of usurping her powers, implementing the board’s resolutions and transferring staff in the assembly. She says these tasks should be carried out by the Clerk, as provided the law.

Ms Apuko told Justice Christine Baari that she was installed as assembly Clerk and sworn in by a magistrate on February 9, and that her permanent and pensionable appointment terms as the County Clerk were approved by the 43 MCAs who are now seeking to eject her. She argued that it would be illegal to remove her before her term lapses in six months as stipulated in the County Government’s Act 2017.

In her affidavit, the Clerk says the MCAs want to replace her with someone who would be willing to transfer the Sh100 million in the assembly’s development account to facilitate a trip to Tanzania.

She further claims the move by the Homa Bay assembly to extended its sine die recess to July 12 was to allow for illegal withdrawal of the monies by the MCAs, which would leave her in trouble as the accounting officer.

Approve withdrawal of the funds

She tabled unsigned board meeting minutes, which she said purported to approve withdrawal of the funds from the county’s development account.

She also tabled text messages, which she said were from MCAs asking her to call a board meeting. She, however, contends that it is the duty of the board chairperson to call meetings.

As secretary to the board, the clerk says she is supposed to attend board meetings and implement board decisions. She, however, said she was unable to execute those duties as there were two warring boards in Homa Bay County, one of which, she adds, is a product of contravention of a court order issued last month.

The Kisumu court on June 16 declared the splinter board, which Ms Apuko argued was created by Speaker Ayoo, illegal and a contravention of Section 17 of the County Assembly Service Act of 2017.

Ms Apuko further accused Ms Ayoo of rushing to change signatories to the county assembly accounts held at different banks, a move the clerk argued was aimed at removing her from the list of signatories.

Ms Apuko also tabled screenshots of what she termed as threatening messages sent to her by Mr Tobias Otieno See, the Speaker’s husband. The screenshot reads: “You will never become clerk.”

In a similar case, Migori County Assembly Clerk Vincesia Awino Kionge went to court seeking orders to degazette a notice published by suspended county assembly speaker Boaz Okoth. The gazette notice removed her, alongside five other members, from the county assembly board.

The Clerk says the Speaker then went ahead to appoint four other people to replace all the suspended board members.

Ms Awino said her suspension alongside the other five was to pave the way for withdrawal of more than  Sh100 million by changing the county bank accounts’ signatories.

She further notes that Mr Okoth was suspended as the Speaker of Migori County Assembly in May after the courts deemed him unfit to hold the office.  

On Monday, the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Kisumu ordered that the status quo as at June 8, when the county assembly went on sine die recess, be maintained.

The order further halted the process of changing the signatories to the county’s bank accounts.

The court ruled that Mr Okoth remained suspended and could therefore not gazette board members, who had not even been approved by the county assembly.

The court in Kisumu has stayed execution of any orders or notices until further directions on July 13.

Two county assemblies

The wrangles in the two county assemblies have been going on for a while.

In Homa Bay, the standoff has seen more than 150 county staff go for two months without pay, which Ms Apuko told the court was in breach of labour laws and the labour rights of the county staff.

This is not the first time the Homa Bay assembly is facing such issues.

Ms Apuko’s predecessor, Mr Hannington Day Ochieng, resigned from the county assembly in May last year. He forfeited his salary and did not even serve notice.

In his resignation letter, Mr Ochieng’ said he was under pressure to do things he did not want to and  had no autonomy to carry out his work.

“The volatile environment could cannot allow me to discharge my duties effectively. My conscience is clear and under the prevailing circumstances, it’s untenable to continue performing my duties uncompromisingly,” he said.

Two weeks ago, five former Homa Bay County Assembly officials were jailed for six years each after being found guilty of embezzling Sh27.8 million by Senior Principal Magistrate Thomas Obutu.

They include former County Assembly Clerk Bob Kephas Otieno, former principal finance officer Caroline Chepkemoi Sang, former principal accountant Maurice Odiwuor Amek, former majority leader Michael Owino Ooro and former minority leader Isaac Ouso Nyandege. The six were also barred from holding public office for the next 10 years. This locked Nyandege out of Homa Bay West ward race, which he had been cleared by the IEBC to contest on an ODM ticket.

This came after the anti-graft agency directed Homa Bay MCAs to return eight million shillings they illegally received as allowances during a trip to Mombasa, where they were supposed to stay for five days but only spent two days.

Ms Apuko has asked the court to protect her and find the MCAs in contempt of court.

Yesterday (Wednesday), the court in Kisumu suspended any reorganisation of the county assembly, its service board, bank accounts and signatories until August 9, 2022.

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