Governors have threatened to go to court to challenge a decision by the Foreign Affairs Ministry to stop issuing special visas to county government officials travelling to the US.
The Council of Governors through its chairman Peter Munya opposed the move, maintaining that county government officials are entitled to special visas to travel to the US by virtue of being State officers.
In a letter to the Principal secretaries in the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Devolution, Mr Munya noted that the national government is under obligation to facilitate the travelling of county government officials by issuing them with the relevant diplomatic notes.
“We note that you have advised that county officials travelling to the US exclusively on behalf of county governments do not qualify for official visa whether travelling on diplomatic passports or not.
“Further, that official visa status ((A Visa category) will only apply to officials travelling to USA on behalf of national government and that county officials will be issued B1/B2 Visa category which do not require a Diplomatic Note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This means that all county officials must follow the normal visa application procedures,” Mr Munya stated in the letter.
He noted that article 260 of the Constitution classified governors, deputy governors, MCAs and members of the County Executive Committees as state officers whose foreign travel should be facilitated by the national government.
“When county officials undertake foreign official travel, they are doing so in fulfilment of their mandates under the Constitution. Hence, national government within the constitutional guidelines of consultation and cooperation should facilitate travel by county officials especially by providing relevant diplomatic notes,” he stated.
Mr Munya was reacting to a memo from the Foreign Affairs Ministry notifying county governments that it will not grant special visas to its officials to travel to the US unless they are on national government business.
The memo stated that henceforth, the US embassy in Nairobi will only issue county officials with visitor visas (Category B1/B2) and not official visas (Category A).
The ministry noted that the US embassy had written to it explaining that official visa status will only apply to officials travelling to the USA on behalf of the national government and their immediate family members (spouse and unmarried sons and daughters).
The letter from the US embassy dated February 14 this year says only county officials travelling for official duties in behalf of the national government qualify for officials visas.
County officials travelling to the US exclusively for county government business do not qualify for the official visa, whether travelling on diplomatic passports or not.
The embassy added that as such, all county officials will be subjected to the normal visa application procedures including physical appearance at the embassy for interviews, fingerprints and payment of visa fee.
In the protest note, Mr Munya argued that it was both discriminatory and unconstitutional for it to deny diplomatic notes to a section of State office holders.
“To this end, the Council of Governors demands that you accord county government officials the facilitation and assistance they require when travelling for official functions to the USA and any other foreign country. Note that non-cooperation (on your part) in fulfilling these legal obligations will attract court challenge from the Council of Governors,” he warned.