Nairobi governor Mike Sonko and Senator Johnson Sakaja are embroiled in a bitter war ahead of 2022 polls which has seen the governor terminate an advertising contract awarded to the latter’s company over Sh40 million rates arrears.
The senator’s firm, Seven Star Media Ltd, was also implicated in tax evasion syndicate at City Hall during a house committee inquiry.
But the senator is reading mischief, claiming Sonko is out to cut his financial base ahead of the 2022 polls where he has declared interest in the gubernatorial seat.
Appearing before the senate county public accounts and investment committee to answer to audit queries, the Nairobi governor alleged that Sakaja’s company had denied the county government revenue by failing to pay levies.
He claimed the company, Seven Star Media Ltd, which is co-owned by the senator, Sportpesa chief executive Ronald Karauri and James Ojwang, had been erecting streets poles and billboards in various parts of the city but had refused to remit levies to City Hall.
In particular, he added, the company has been destroying the environment by cutting trees to make its adverts visible.
“Senator Sakaja has been doing business with Nairobi city county, acting with impunity and has refused to pay revenue,” Sonko told the committee chaired by Senator Moses Kajwang’ of Homa Bay.
According to the governor, Sakaja’s establishment owes City Hall Sh40 million in levies and revenue.
He was speaking during the summonses to answer to audit queries for the financial year 2017/18 in which the Auditor General has cited a drop of Sh7.5 billion in collection of revenue since he took office in August 2017.
However, his explanation did not satisfy senators on how failure by a company contributed to deficit of Sh7.5 billion of revenue.
“Bwana Governor, if this is not malice, how does a debit of Sh40 million contribute to the Sh7.5 billion deficit of own collected revenue?” Kajwang asked.
In his report, Auditor General Edward Ouko disclosed that while the county government projected to collect Sh17,229,760 during the year under review, it managed to collect only Sh10,157,594,130.
Sonko attributed the failure to interplay of multiple factors including prolonged electioneering period, slowdown in economic activity, transitional challenges, legal gaps in existing revenue collection legislation and high default rates among payers including government entities.
The governor tabled before the committee CR12 Form showing the other owners of the company as Ronald Karauri and James Omondi.
A CR12 is an official and legal confirmation or certificate by the Registrar of Companies indicating a company’s
details and directors and shareholders of a company.The company is involved in outdoor advertising.
Later, Sonko’s communications director Elkana Jacob told journalists the Sh40 million debt has accumulated over six years.
“We have written several times to the senator’s office but we have not received any down payment on the debt,” Jacob said.
He released photos of what he said were Seven Stars Media billboards in Nairobi. Jacob said the county government will make sure that the debt is cleared.
According to sources, the company lied to City Hall that it had installed only 400 billboards along major roads in Nairobi but a count discovered that they had over 900 billboards.
The county demanded that the company makes additional payment, a demand which was not effectively responded to.
This prompted the county leadership to remove all Seven Star Media Limited billboards from the roads, something which annoyed Sakaja and prompted him to push for the summon of Sonko to the senate to answer to queries touching on other issues.
The senator never recused himself nor declared his interest when transacting business during senate’s public accounts committee hearing which the governor attended twice.
Sources within the county revealed that the billboards earned Sakaja upwards of Sh200 million, money which he used to buy properties in Karen and other areas.
Sonko and Sakaja also publicly clashed when the governor appeared before the senate’s devolution committee to explain why he has failed to appoint a deputy, more than 15 months after Polycarp Igathe resigned.
An irate Sonko took issue with the senator for muddying their friendship for a non-issue in regards to the deputy governor post.
“Even the other day, he sent me a picture that we took some two years ago. So I’m shocked that Senator Sakaja is bringing this matter to this committee,” Sonko said.
He said the deputy governor’s position was a non-issue that did not need the senator to bring before the committee.
“There was no need of calling senators to come and deal with this non-issue. I have shown goodwill by nominating Miguna, this is not a serious issue,” he said.
But the chair, Laikipia senator John Kinyua, interjected explaining to Sonko that the issue before the senate committee was serious.
“Assume something happens to you which God forbids; what will you do when you don’t have a deputy?” he posed.
Sakaja and Sonko has been head to head on county issues as the former eyes the seat in 2022.
Both have been at each other’s throats after the senator started asking why the county boss has not named a deputy governor after Igathe resigned on January 31 2018.
The county has been operating without a deputy ever since.
However, Sonko hit back at Sakaja when he appeared before the senate’s devolution committee to explain why he has failed to appoint a deputy, more than 15 months after Igathe resigned.
Sakaja had raised concerns over the manner in which the governor is running Nairobi affairs which he argues has affected the delivery of services to residents.
He accused Sonko of running his administration without a properly constituted county executive committee, having fired most of the members.
The Nairobi county assembly also has no substantive speaker after the sacking of Beatrice Elachi.
Taking a cue from Sakaja, the senators accused Sonko of turning the city county government into a one-man show.
The Nairobi senator even raised the matter on the floor of the house through a personal statement calling for intervention by the senate.
He said the city county is being run by a government that is not properly constituted as stipulated in law. The senators who spoke criticised Sonko for only working with five CECs as opposed to the 10 envisaged in law.
In his address, Sakaja demanded the Nairobi governor be compelled to comply with the law and have his administration properly constituted.
He said failure to pick a deputy shows the governor’s disdain for the role of deputy governors and the move undermined the delivery of service to the residents.
In an advisory opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that governors are free to pick their deputies, with the approval of county assembly, in the event a vacancy occurs in that office.
Nyeri governor Mutahi Kahiga who took over after the death of Wahome Gakuru has since taken advantage of the advisory and appointed Caroline Karugu as his deputy.
But Sonko while answering back said he was prepared to name a deputy last December but failed to do so after he received two letters from Nasa chiefs, Raila Odinga, urging him to appoint their preferred persons in the spirit of the handshake.
Other politicians scheming to challenge Sonko in 2022 include youthful Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris and ousted speaker Beatrice Elachi.
Babu could be among politicians to give Sonko headache in the 2022 polls owing to his rising political fame in ODM circles.
For Esther Passaris, she enjoys support among women and youth. Passaris is known for championing human rights and social justice. She is also known for her Adopt-A-Light project that lit up a section of Nairobi streets.
She also could use her close ties with Raila Odinga.
For Elachi, the former nominated senator is also likely to contest for the governor’s seat in 2022. She has created a political name for herself and is among vocal female politicians.
The second term ODM MP could also bank on his close ties with Raila to bid for the Nairobi governor seat in 2022. Ken Okoth who is currently on treatment for Stage 4 colorectal cancer would have been a threat had he been in good health.