Thursday, September 30, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

September 30, 2010

The new constitution is here with us. The party is over and the honeymoon is long gone. Now we must face the reality of implementing and living the true spirit and letter of this new document. In so doing, let us accept the bitter truth that the old wineskin will not withstand the pressures and potency of the new wine. We must get a new wineskin for the new wine.

In this article; I want to zero in on the all important County Government which has been the focus of our governance in the last few weeks. Just by observing the level of interest it has generated among the political class; one gets the feeling that it is the next stop for the gravy train and if Kenyans are not careful, we may end up devolving gluttony, ineptitude, graft and all the bad manners we have had at the national level to these regional governments.

First things first; what does the constitution say about the County Government? Do we understand its structure, functions, benefits and usefulness? Will it improve my life at the village and level? What is it that it will give me that today I cannot get from the Central Government?

Chapter Seven of the new constitution states the objectives and principles of the devolved government in very clear and simple terms.

It envisages that the County Government will promote democratic and accountable exercise of power, foster national unity by recognizing diversity, give powers of self-governance to the people, and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them.

It also recognizes the right of different communities to manage their own affairs, further their development, protect and promote their interests and rights even if they are marginalized.

It seeks to promote social and economic development as it provides proximate and easily accessible services throughout Kenya by ensuring equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout the country.

It seeks to decentralize State organs, their functions and services from the capital of Kenya and to ensure checks and balances and the separation of powers.

To carry out this mandate, a County Government will be expected to be based on democratic principles, have reliable sources of revenue and to apply gender balance in its structures.

Based on the above; we may need to reexamine what has been the problem with a highly centralized system with a tightly controlled power at the center that the new constitution is trying to phase out.

In the current system, all planning for the nation from the location to the central government was done in Nairobi. The Treasury religiously read out the budget every year and disbursed the funds as it pleased without regard to the needs of diverse regions of Kenya. At the end of the day, Kenyans had come to believe that certain regions were not worth the tax payer’s money even though some of them had the highest tax returns for the national government.

The main reason why Kenyans fought for a devolved government was bias and ethnicity that had become our way of life. We had come to believe that ethnicity rather than competence was a top priority in getting a job, contract or political appointment in government. For this reason, it was possible to find in a centralized system, whole ministries and state corporations packed with people from the same tribe if not the same village. Under this arrangement, national resources under their dockets never reached regions that had no representation in such ministries even if they badly needed such services.

This flawed system is the reason we have no roads, railway lines or working transport systems in North Eastern Kenya. It is the reason Kenyans die of starvation when rains fail yet we have the largest fresh water reservoir in Africa sitting pretty in Nyanza Province.

However, in order to unlock the potential of making a County Government work, we must be careful not to export mediocrity, graft and gluttony to the regions. Yes, communities are now excited about taking care of their interests but if we are not careful, we may replicate the current maligned negative ethnicity with nepotism, clannism or village-mateism. At the end of the day, we will begin to see people getting positions and jobs in counties based on their tall relatives that will have been elected to the regional government in dubious circumstances.

If indeed we have to practice democratic and accountable exercise of power, the oversight body of these counties must be more powerful and knowledgeable enough to supervise and nip in the bud the bad manners that our usual crooks may want to take to the counties.

As it is, known criminals are setting their machinery in readiness to take up the lucrative county jobs despite the fact that a number of them are past sell-by-date. The new bills that will be passed to make the new constitution operational must make it extremely difficult for these criminals to find their way into our counties.

Jerry Okungu is the CEO of Kenya-Today