By Jerry Okungu
June 12, 2013
This is the bitter truth. Kenya’s dream of a better country is headed for the rocks. The devolution that we thought was a cure for all our governance problems is under siege. It is being assaulted from all angles. If the National Assembly is not strangling it financially, inept governors are getting their priorities upside down.
As I wrote this article, President Uhuru Kenyatta had thrown the first salvo. He sided with the National Assembly to deny County governments an extra Ksh 48 billion allocated by the Senate. In effect, he explicitly told the Senators that in the scheme of things, their deliberations and decisions were of no consequence. This was the case of a father coming home to find his two sons fighting over a loaf of bread and instead of listening to both and giving a Solomonic judgement, he chooses to take the whole bread and give it to his favorite son.
The dilemma in which Kenya’s devolution finds itself is not necessarily the creation of the President’s perceived lack of support. The origin of the problem is rooted in the two chambers of Parliament. The National Assembly is apprehensive that if the Senate grows in stature and truly safeguards the interests of county governments as stipulated in the constitution, then MPs will lose their clout and power bases. It is this fear of competition for power that drives MPs to do anything in their powers to derail the devolution even if it means disbanding the Senate.
If indeed the Senate goes as dreamt by the current MPs, it is most likely that the next target of assault would be the County Assemblies where the Governors are in charge. MPs will most likely be tempted to supervise them from Nairobi in the knowledge that the Senate that used to protect their interests is no more. And if this supervision is resisted by County Assemblies, some MP will be detailed to table a bill in the National Assembly that will seek to abolish County Assemblies as an unnecessary waste of public funds.
If this comes to pass, it would be an irony of history that the first Senate that was established under the Lancaster Constitution with Jomo Kenyatta as the first President was disbanded a year later under his watch. Would Uhuru Kenyatta allow the second devolution under the second constitution to die under his watch? What would President Uhuru Kenyatta gain by allowing Parliament to kill devolution?
In retrospect, it may not be in Uhuru’s interest to do away with devolution, however, there are individuals in the National Assembly that may do all they can to mislead him into thinking that the Senate and County Assemblies are an unnecessary public cost centers that Kenya can do without. It is these individuals that Kenyans and County governors must be vigilant about. They are few but very dangerous for the stability of the nation.
Much as we may want to blame dark forces out to derail our young devolution, the bigger danger lies in a myriad myopic and visionless governors of some of our counties. A look at counties such as Kisumu, Siaya, Kajiado, Busia, Kakamega, Kilifi and Garissa among others, one gets the feeling that governors are still behaving like the former mayors of those cities. They have become governors of their CBDs.
The manifestos that governors bombarded us with are no more. We no longer hear of their grandiose plans and how they would transform the lives of their county residents. If anything, all we can hear these days are reports of governors lodging in hotels even though their palatial homes are hardly ten minutes drive from the city center. How can we have a governor who chooses to lodge in a hotel in his county for 90 days under the pretext that the former mayor still occupies the official residence? Who doesn’t know that mayors ceased to be employees of the Kenya government six months ago? And even if that were the case, why not rent a house that gives the office its dignity?
Most governors promised us what they would do in the first 100 days in office. Those hundred days are now over yet we still have traffic madness in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa. Garbage collection has been forgotten. Water supply is still as scarce as ever. Hyacinth is still tormenting fishermen in Kisumu. Infrastructure seems to be resting in the back banners yet governors still find time to waste resources in retreats in far away luxury beach resorts a thousand kilometers from their countries.
This lackluster performance of most governors has its roots in the way they were vetted before being nominated by their parties. In fact proper vetting was absent at every stage of the process. Political parties failed to apply integrity and performance yardsticks. The Anti-corruption Commission went to sleep during the vetting process while the IEBC chose to ignore the most glaring integrity failures presented to it. In the end, we elected the usual suspects, some of who were jobless hustlers on our streets. To expect this lot to perform will be a miracle.
Under the circumstances, governors must change tact and begin to be serious with their work rather moaning day and night for more cash from the National Government. If they don’t, they will soon be soft target for dissolution by the National Assembly that has already tasted blood.