Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama heads one of the counties with the greatest potential in the country.
The ebullient leader who worked for decades in the tea industry believes that agri-business holds the key to Nyamira’s bright future.
Mr Nyagarama is perhaps the only governor in this series who has accepted that he has covered much ground in some areas but there is still much to be done.
Q: In what state did you find Nyamira County? A: The roads were deplorable and farmers faced difficulties transporting their tea to factories. The dairy industry was non-existent. Education levels were at their lowest. Our youths were loitering in towns and villages. Nyamira town was not as clean as it is now. A lot of people had no access to clean water and health services. My intention is to change it into a haven of development. A place where people will enjoy their lives, access equal opportunities and harness available resources.
Q: What have you done to remedy the situation? A: We are working on 300 kilometres of roads in different parts of the county. This will open up the economy and create jobs, especially for youths and women. We are buying road construction equipment such as trucks, graders, rollers and excavators to supplement the national government. This will help us murram our roads. We want the activities of Kenya Rural Roads Authority and Kenya Urban Roads Authority harmonised. The county governments should be allowed to manage the two roads’ agencies. We are discussing this with the President and are hopeful that there will be no problem.
Q: Did you return Sh1.2 billion for development to the Treasury? A: That is not true. No money was returned to the Treasury. A chunk of the money is already committed to development projects. That was propaganda to make the county government look like it has failed. The question Kenyans should ask is when did we receive the money? We received it in November because of problems with budgeting as happened in many counties. There are also procurement processes to be followed. The question should be how effectively have we spent the money.
Q: Talking of procurement, what is your response to reports that it is very difficult for a company to get a tender here unless it offers a bribe? A: I tell my officers to work honestly. Bribery is two-way and we have mechanisms to report corruption. I will take action if anybody complains. I have not taken a single cent from anybody as kickback for a tender. There are elaborate processes and laws that guide the procurement of services. The tenders are being given to qualified firms.
Q: Still on integrity, there are claims that you have employed your relatives. A: Employment is done by the Public Service Board. It is not difficult to know who is related to me in the county government. That is silly talk. Well, if any of my relatives was qualified, I will give him that job competitively. If any of my relatives has been employed by the county, that would be by sheer chance. We welcome anybody to come and vet the recruitment process. We have been keen to accommodate everybody. It is only Nyamaiya and Manga wards, which did not get a county executive but they will be accommodated in other appointments.
Q: What is your assessment of the quality and competence of the staff you inherited from the former local government authorities? A: We are going to carry out an assessment and later do staff rationalisation. We have decided to do it with the national government to avoid backlash. Some money has been set aside for the process.
Q: The education standards in this county have been deteriorating over time. Does it worry you? A: I am very concerned about the deteriorating standards. I know the importance of education, that is why I am concerned about a new culture which is gaining root in Gusii where schools have been converted into funeral venues every Friday. We have developed a trend in which bodies are collected from mortuaries on Thursdays for burial on Friday, which has become the “official” funeral day. Many teachers, therefore, don’t work on Fridays to attend funerals while children are forced to stay at home because their schools are being used as venues for funeral services. I am told the choice of Friday is informed by religious considerations. But why can’t Seventh Day Adventists bury their own on Sunday? Why can’t the other groups which worship on Sunday bury their relatives on Saturday?
Q: What are you doing to improve the poor performance of schools here? A: I am engaging teachers, unions and parents on this matter. We are trying to find out the reasons for the poor performance. A single school such as Maseno produces more than 100 As. It is a pity that all schools here could not produce a similar number. I have been donating books and solar lamps to schools and building classrooms. I am digging boreholes and we are providing re-usable sanitary towels to keep the girls in school. But the shocking thing is the behaviour of old boys and girls of these schools. They are detached from their alma maters. They stay in Nairobi and ask questions about poor performance in their former schools. I am asking them to get back to their former schools and help. I attended the famous Nyakemincha Primary School. I am also trying to do the same.
Q: This is a rich agricultural county yet farmers are not making money. What are you doing to change the situation? A: The unfortunate thing is that our people have engaged in subsistence agriculture over the years, mainly maize and banana farming. The coffee industry died. We are working to revive it. We are confident that we can help our tea farmers get more returns through value addition. My intention is that we move to agri-business, what they call kilimo biashara. We have started training farmers, interest groups and even national government people engaged in the sector to empower them with relevant skills. We have distributed three greenhouses each to all our 20 wards. Q: What about the livestock sector? A: The county government is keen to improve livestock and poultry farming for consumption and sale. That is why we have revived artificial insemination services. We are injecting cows with hormones to stimulate them to go on heat. This means they will calf at the same time to ensure constant production of milk. We have bought 60 motorbikes for vets to move from place to place to inseminate animals. The county government is also giving goats, chicken and beehives to interest groups
Q: And how are you addressing challenges in the tea sector? A: There is a problem on our farms. The location has a direct effect on the quality of leaf. You cannot get good quality tea from the low lands. Tea factories are few and leaf management is poor. I am talking from experience having worked in the tea industry for long. Farm inputs are expensive, labour costs are uncontrollable. The farmer has to bear the high cost of electricity in addition to transport. That is why we are opening up the roads to ease transportation of tea to factories and ensure it doesn’t rot. Emphasis should also be put on value addition and marketing to secure better prices for the farmer.
Q: What ground have you covered on health? A: We have not done much. But we have started renovating the Nyamira Level Four Hospital. Our intention is to upgrade it. The county government has bought equipment and drugs worth Sh44 million for hospitals and ambulances for every sub-county. The old ambulances we inherited have been transferred to small outlets. We are also training health workers to encourage them to change their attitudes. The county government is educating people on HIV and mothers are being encouraged to give birth in hospitals. We are also fighting jiggers in villages
Q: Jiggers are a manifestation of poverty. How do you plan to reduce the poverty level? Yes, they are a manifestation of poverty but it can also be as a result of carelessness. There is absolutely no reason why families should not smear their houses with clay. My vision for the county will result in improved family incomes, jobs, markets for farm produce, education for young people, more food production and a thriving economy. I am confident that this will reduce the number of poor people.
Q: Why are you constantly quarreling Senator Mongare Okong’o? A: It is the senator who quarrels me. There is no conflict. Your question is what I call terminological inexactitude. We have different responsibilities. I am an old man, mature and responsible. He has been going round markets telling traders not to pay taxes. He started by claiming that we had bought fuel guzzlers without tendering. No procedure was flouted. I am not a fool to irregularly buy cars. He has not complained to the anti-corruption or procurement authority. He keeps raising all manner of issues in political rallies but he has never come to my office to discuss them with me.
Q: If Sunday Nation visits Nyamira at the end of your term, what kind of county can we expect to find? A: You will find a different Nyamira. We are building a Sh1 billion county government complex at Sironga. It will be out of this world, complete with malls. We also have plans to establish an airstrip. Our standards in the world of education will change. Our towns will be well-lit and secure. We have come up with intelligent and deliberate ways of using our allocation for the benefit of Nyamira. I don’t speak a lot. I concentrate on my work. But when need be, I put my feet down and speak the truth. I will not be knocked down. I am pushing my staff to deliver.