Migori governor Zachary Okoth Obado : Why I work with Ruto

Posted In NEWS - By admin on Sunday, February 16th, 2014 With No Comments »
Migori governor Zachary Okoth Obado

Migori governor Zachary Okoth Obado.

Zachary Okoth Obado is the only non-ODM governor in Luo Nyanza’s four counties. Even the neighbouring counties of Kisii and Nyamira in the same region have ODM governors.

He is a member of the Omingo Magara-led People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that expressed interest in working with the Jubilee Coalition after last year’s General Election.

Mr Obado fled ODM after Prof Edward Oyugi was controversially declared winner in the party’s botched primaries and went ahead to defeat Prof Oyugi narrowly in the election. So close was the contest that the two were separated by 163 votes (Obado’s 123,821 against Prof Oyugi’s 123,658).

The ODM man moved to court challenging the election results. But a recount ordered by the High Court saw the vote margin rise from 163 to 577, with Mr Obado still the winner. Prof Oyugi disagreed. He appealed the decision maintaining that scrutiny of all votes showed he won by 174 votes. Mr Obado and the electoral commission have asked judges to adopt an argument by the High Court, that an election is not a mathematical puzzle.

The IEBC said there was no election ever held that was 100 per cent flawless. The governor will know his fate on April 4 when the appeal court delivers its verdict.

But even as the case hangs over him like the sword of Damocles, the governor puts on a brave face and promises to deliver on his pledges and confront the challenges that come with the job to meet his constituents’ expectations. The future of Migori, he says, is painted in golden colours.

A conversation with the soft-spoken governor reveals a stubbornly confident, undistracted man. With a refreshing smile, the former Kenya Sugar Board man is extremely calm, aware of the task ahead.

His Public Service Board suffered a setback last week when the High Court temporarily stopped the hiring of county officers over allegations that it had not satisfied the constitutional demand for diversity in public appointments.

So cosmopolitan is Migori County that one of its MPs is a Mr Junet Mohammed, a Somali. Though dominated by the Luo, the county is also the home of a large Kuria population as well as Kisiis, Somalis and Luyhias.

Migori Senator Wilfred Machage last weekend accused the governor of failing to accommodate all ethnic groups in his government. But Mr Obado said the real picture will emerge when all appointments have been made.

But perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Mr Obado’s leadership is his cooperation with the Jubilee government in an ODM stronghold where politicians not in favour with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga barely survive re-election.  And Mr Obado has never disguised the fact he is not one of Mr Odinga’s political admirers. The governor has twice hosted Deputy President William Ruto in his county, the last time being February 8 when the URP leader visited Kuria.

While such cooperation is viewed with suspicion in certain quarters, Mr Obado says he enjoys a good relationship with the ODM leadership. Cooperation with the national government, he says, is not only demanded by the Constitution but will also unlock development for his people.

“Politics has its time. We completed the elections in March last year. The remaining period is for development,” he says.

He is uncomfortable with the perception that the relationship between the two governments should be adversarial. He thinks it should be complementary, symbiotic.

“We share a lot in common. I usually invite Ruto as the deputy president of the Republic of Kenya and as an officer of the national government, with which we must work to achieve our mandates,” he says.

The relationship between the two politicians is said to have been cemented during their days in ODM, as well as when Mr Ruto was Agriculture Minister and Mr Obado on the sugar board under his docket.

“I was a victim of the shambolic ODM primaries. My supporters decided that their democratic rights had to be respected. I want to be judged on delivery of services, not the party I support,” he says.

According to Mr Obado, the development train has not left the station in counties because the route has to be prepared hiring and training of staff, setting up of county offices, and preparation and approval of budgets. Then there was the delay in release of development cash, and elaborate procurement requirements.

His approach does not sound sophisticated: identify challenges, address them. Turn challenges into opportunities. Exploit existing opportunities mainly human labour to improve livelihoods, create jobs, produce enough food for consumption and sale, generate more income for families to enable them live healthy and longer.

Mr Obado speaks agriculture.

Q. So what ground have you covered so far?

We have helped expand health facilities, especially Migori Hospital. Because of our efforts, Migori MTC is now admitting students. We have built a modern county assembly and installed 150 water tanks to needy schools. Our people are laying pipes for water supply. We have bought tractors to help farmers till the land to alleviate hunger. My government has also started paving roads in partnership with private companies, such as sugar millers.

Q. You have been allocated more than Sh500 million for development. What are your priorities for Migori County?

Our priorities are shaped by our problems. The plan is massive investment in agricultural industries. That is why we are interested in Sony Sugar Company which is being privatised. For us, the company is like a hanging fruit. That is why we want Migori farmers to buy it.

The other plan is to help farmers rear dairy cows and breed some for sale in the region. Areas such as Nyatike have fertile soil and climate for fruit farming my government will start a fruit-processing plant. We also endowed with Lake Victoria, but we want to encourage our people to set up fish ponds because some rivers have started drying up.

Q. What about the other sectors?

There is small-scale mining of minereals in our region, especially in Nyatike, Suna and Rongo. but the methods used are not modern. We desire to improve mining technology and formalise the sector.

Q. Tobacco farming is a major economic activity in this region. But there are concerns that Big Tobacco consumes all the profits at the expense of farmers?

It is true. Over 70 per cent of our land is used for tobacco cultivation, but it not benefiting farmers. We plan to bring in more players to encourage competition which will result in better prices for farmers.

Q But all this can certainly not be achieved in a county with no roads for the most part…

Expansion of roads is top on our agenda. We inherited equipment from the former local authorities such as graders, bulldozers and rollers which we have already put to use. We have adopted public-private sector partnerships a case in point, with sugar millers. The arrangement is instead of paying cess, we will provide equipment while they provide the fuel.

We have already repaired two roads. This way, the county government has saved a lot of money. The other approach is the Kazi kwa Vijana initiative where we are paying youths to do country roads, with expert supervision. However, 50 per cent of the roads will be done by private contractors. The last approach is relying on the good will of private individuals willing to support us with resources.

Q: You inherited hundreds of workers from the former local government authorities. How have you addressed concerns around their competencies, huge wage bill as well as ghost staff?

We are in the process of rationalising the staff we inherited. Most of them have no certificates. My team has been doing suitability tests to ascertain competencies and expose ghost workers. A number of those we inherited cannot fit into our system.

Q: If Sunday Nation visits Migori four years from now, what can we expect?

A vibrant economy, an organised town, good roads, running water, well-fed families with some money in their pockets.


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