County chiefs are living large while undermining devolution

BILLOW KERROW |

I often criticise President Uhuru Kenyatta’s policies and actions without any hesitation, where it warrants. His recent allocation of Sh1 billion to miraa farmers in Meru is one such decision that I think is misguided. Miraa has long been classified as an abuse substance by World Health Organisation and consequently banned in several Western nations. Locally, attempts by NACADA to classify it as a drug, or regulate its use, have been frustrated by the State. Somalis, who are the main consumers in this country continue to bear the brunt, with many lives destroyed, families devastated and education of youth disrupted by this addictive drug whose abuse continues unabated.

In our political dispensation, such a decision to fund farmers should be the preserve of the county governments. Equally, the decision to keep the youth in North Eastern away from miraa through appropriate legislation and keep this substance out of our counties also lies with our county governments. So, what level of government is not playing its role effectively? The just-concluded Meru conference on devolution was meant to address these and other challenges, both real and perceived, that have set both levels of government working in apparent disharmony. Last year, I wrote in this column that devolution was at a crossroads, and it is the governors who will either make it or break it through their actions. A year later, I am more inclined to believe that our governors are gradually killing the spirit of devolution in the country.

Governors have created this façade that they are mini-presidents who must rule with unabated appetite for power and authority, coupled with opulence and state largesse of the kind Kenyans witnessed during the 1980s. Consultation and collaboration with the other level of government, which is the cornerstone of our Constitution, was thrown to the wind. These pioneer governors have created the false impression that counties are far more autonomous than even federal states. The provision of the Constitution that the two levels of government are ‘distinct’ has been misconstrued to mean that they independent states. Hence, their continued lack of cooperation with the Executive, Parliament and other state institutions.

The major trouble with our governors is that many have turned the counties into a cash cow and bankrupted their treasuries. The devolution objective of bringing participative democracy, development and service delivery closer to the people with a higher degree of accountability has been negated by their craving to replicate the wastage, inefficiencies, political patronage and misplaced priorities of the national government, a mischief that devolution was meant to address. President Kenyatta captured the public mood in his State of the Nation speech last month when he said “a significant proportion of the funds transferred to the devolved units have not met the expectations of the Kenyan people....we see conspicuous consumption, self-aggrandisement, and wastefulness. In some cases, we have seen fleets of vehicles and palaces being acquired to benefit administrators and officials.”

Governors often rubbish reports of the Auditor General and the Controller of Budget that highlight their excesses and misappropriation of funds. They accuse EACC of witch-hunt, and portray the Executive and Parliament as enemies of devolution. They also trash their county assemblies as unworthy lynch-mobs. They counter corruption allegations by pointing fingers at national government. Billions in donor funds for counties are stuck because they want cheques to their county accounts, without results and accountability.

The President must walk the talk by locking up the thieving governors like ‘ordinary criminals’. Governors should appreciate they are not above the law, and moderate the temptation to live large.

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