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Kericho airstrip upgrade enters bumpy stretch

Kericho governor Paul Chepkwony (right) with ex-Kenya Civil Aviation Authority chairman Samuel Poghisio at Kerenga Airstrip. PHOTO | ANITA CHEPKOECH
Kericho governor Paul Chepkwony (right) with ex-Kenya Civil Aviation Authority chairman Samuel Poghisio at Kerenga Airstrip. PHOTO | ANITA CHEPKOECH 

Kericho County Assembly has dealt a blow to Governor Paul Chepkwony’s administration by slashing the budget of upgrading Kerenga airstrip to a quarter.

Instead of Sh100 million, the lawmakers allocated Sh25 million, saying upgrade of the facility was not a priority; it could be financed in phases.

Water, roads and health were more urgent requirements, the MCAs decided when they passed the supplementary budget on December 18.

But it appears a tug-of-war between the governor and the MCAs is taking shape on the legality of the budget review.

The governor said the step was against Section 131 of the Public Finance Management Act, 2012, and regulation 37 of the Public Finance Management Regulation 2015, but the Committee on Budget and Appropriation chairman Albert Kipkoech of Soliat Ward said the governor in his memorandum misinterpreted the Public Finance Management Act.

“In line with the said contravention, we noted that the changes in the vote heads and budgetary lines have exceeded the threshold of one per cent as stipulated in the Act,”said Prof Chepkwony in a December 20 memo.

However, Mr Kipkoech said: “When dealing with supplementary budget, Section 135 of the same Act says the amendments should not exceed 10 per cent. The one per cent the governor talked about (in Section 131) refers to the main budget which was long passed in June,” said Mr Kipkoech.

The MCAs met on December 29 to discuss the governor’s memo that pushed for a review of the cut.

Prof Chepkwony has been accused of undertaking major projects without involving other leaders in the county.

Kapsoit MCA Paul Tarimbo, who chairs the roads and infrastructure committee said that the governor toured the airstrip without the committee’s knowledge.

“There have to be certain processes in developing an airstrip. But he called the Airforce without informing the County Assembly,” said Mr Tarimbo.

Budget chairman and House Majority Leader Hezron Kipng’eno said the members were not at war with the governor. 

The members invited the governor to hold further talks while saying Sh25 million was adequate for initial works.

The MCAs said they had consulted the Roads, Transport and Public works CEC Charles Birech.

Prof Chepkwony earlier said making the facility commerciallly viable was part of the county’s core strategic plan.

“We have budgeted Sh100m for the job and we hope the County Assembly will approve the expenditure and make Kericho the first county to construct its own minor airport,” said Prof Chepkwony.

In his plan, the runway would be extended from 1.2km to 3.7km to accommodate large aircraft.

Brooke Bond (now Unilever Tea Kenya Limited) owned the facility but handed it over to the government. It has been limited to a landing bay for politicians touring the region in helicopters. 

Through the National Land Commission, the county seeks more land from Unilever for the expansion, which has excited the business community, saying it would ease transportation and improve prices of agricultural produce.

Mr Simon Koech, a businessman said the establishment of a bigger airstrip would help to create new markets for local products and attract new investments. 

If succesful, it would boost exportation of processed tea and coffee, and horticultural produce from the county. The flights would also bring in tourists.

Sally Lang’at, a farmer and vendor at Ngoina Road said her fortunes would soon improve once the stalled pineapple factory starts operations.

“During peak season, we sell a pineapple at a paltry Sh5. But Prof Chepkwony has said the factory will be ready in the next three months,” said Mrs Lang’at.

Prof Chepkwony in January took a group of officials from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority on a tour of the airstrip. 

The bid to expand Kerenga Airstrip has been in the pipeline for more than 20 years.

Joel Chepkwony, a pilot and a resident, says the project is still the next big thing if Kericho must grow economically.

“Kerenga should be upgraded and if not for anything else,  just for emergency use — saving lives,” said the pilot.

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