Opposition chief had called for Kenya to borrow a leaf from the US
Deputy President says ODM chief’s proposal seeks to reverse the hard-earned gains of ‘our reform endeavours’.
The fate of counties in looming constitutional reforms is the new battle front between Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition chief Raila Odinga.
Dr Ruto yesterday opposed any attempt to abolish or merge counties as well as create another devolution structure as proposed by Raila, describing it as “a treacherous anti-devolution narrative”.
And the latest feud between the bitter rivals, who are jostling to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, was staged at an apt platform - a meeting of governors who would be affected by any changes to the boundaries of the 47 counties.
Ruto argued that the success and future of devolution would not be determined by size or population - a national census which will inform the boundaries review is due in August - but by creative, innovative and visionary leadership.
“The debate about size and mergers is a treacherous anti-devolution narrative that is simplistic, retrogressive and seeks to reverse the hard earned gains of our reform endeavours,” Ruto said as he closed the Sixth Annual Devolution Conference at Kirinyaga University. The event started on Monday.
He termed the proposals by Raila “a sly attempt to sneak a selfish, self preservationist agenda into the national conversation with the aim of derailing the country from the development trajectory”.
The DP was reacting to the proposals by Raila at the same conference on Wednesday in which the opposition leader said the Bomas draft, rejected in 2005 referendum and which had proposed 14 regions, was the better option.
Kenyans, Raila said, must however address the fact that a number of counties were too tiny to compete economically with others in terms of population, infrastructure and resources.
“This is why as a logical response, we have seen the formation of regional blocs to pool together resources and infrastructure and this Council of Governors is the perfect forum to push for the formalisation of regional blocs,” Raila explained.
He noted that formalisation of regional blocs did not necessarily mean dismantling the counties, but would mean strengthening the blocs to make it easier to pool resources and allow units to harness their potential.
“Other countries have three levels of government, State, Federal and National as is the case in United States and Nigeria or in the case of South Africa where they have state, Provincial and National,” the ODM leader added.
Yesterday, Ruto said the only debate Kenyans should have on devolution should be about making the ward development fund - a kitty earmarked for members of county assemblies - a reality.
Acknowledging the the successes of devolution, Ruto said an group of local experts was helping manage devolution and intergovernmental relations.
Some of the devolution success stories he cited include the Kirinyaga coffee value addition project and enrollment of 62 per cent of all residents of Laikipia into the National Health Insurance Fund. Ruto also boldly criticised what he called the politicisation of the war against corruption.
He said he was opposed to selective prosecutions targeted at particular individuals and projects.
The DP also doubted Raila’s commitment to the fight graft, saying that the ODM leader had accused the Jubilee government of having stolen billions of shillings in the Eurobond transaction.
He accused Raila of launching a personal war against a future competitor. The DP also accused Odinga of forgetting his past attacks on the Jubilee government.
“The biggest threat to the war on corruption is selective prosecutions targeting pre-determined individuals or projects; and secondly, rumour mongers, propagandists and peddlers of half truths, exaggerations and distortions meant for media headlines to execute covert political schemes, which in and of itself constitute obstruction of justice,” he said.
It is likely to be the first instance that the DP directly contradicted his boss President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has asked Kenyans to treat the war against graft as not targeted on individuals or communities.
But the DP insisted that he strongly supported the President and has been consistently the strongest supporter of Uhuru.
Reacting to Raila’s claim that it was curious that he had all figures on the controversial dam projects in the Rift Valley, the DP said he was perfectly in line keeping tab on projects launched by the Jubilee government.
Water projects, he said, were the third enabler of the Jubilee manifesto of four pillars of development only second to provision of electricity and infrastructure.
“As a young boy, I was a herdsman and all herdsmen know the importance of counting all their cattle and knowing which one is sick before driving them home,” Ruto said.
“Asking me about my interest in the numbers is like a hyena asking the herdsmen why he is counting his cattle.”
The DP said the opposition leader lacked the legitimacy to lecture anyone on corruption, based on his constant change of stance.
Ruto, however, welcomed the national discourse on the fight against graft and described it as healthy, adding that the Government had done well in establishing robust independent agencies to fight the vice.
“Wastage, mismanagement and corruption limit, undermine and ultimately destroy the proper and optimal use of resources,” he said, adding that those agencies were only answerable to themselves and the law.
He also defended the Jubilee government’s record on graft war, citing Presidential Executive Order No. 2 of 2018 that directed all public service departments to actively release to the public information on procurement of public works and services including information on Kenyans who owned the companies trading with the government.
“Over the past three years, my office has provided leadership to the open government partnership platform in Kenya that brings together national and county government departments as well as private sector, academia and civil society,” Ruto added.
The success stories of devolution are plastered all over the country, he added citing the rise of health centres from 8,000 in 2012 to over 11,000.
“Turkana County - which had four doctors before devolution set in - now has 73, while the number in Mandera now stands at 38 up from one,” he added.
“Overall, the number of doctors in our health facilities has increased from 874 in 2013 to 4,637 in 2017, while the number of nurses rose from 6,620 in 2013 to 25,597 last year. Community health workers now stand at 52,968.”
He challenged governors to be innovative and to use creative ways to help Kenyans raise their standard of living.
He also asked the counties to take advantage of Sh11 billion allocation for spatial planning, infrastructure development and capacity building for counties.