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Fears over renewed devolution setbacks

By | August 28th 2011 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Stephen Makabila

One year after promulgation of the new Constitution, there are fears the rollout of devolution could run into fresh challenges.

There are rising concerns over an apparent systematic attempt to dilute devolution and enhance powers of the national government.

G7 leaders on arrival from the ICC. Photo: File/Standard

But some experts say recent Government actions may look extreme but are necessary for the devolved structures to take off and hold.

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While the new Constitution separates powers and roles of the two-tier system, experts believe the tussle over devolved funds between Treasury and Ministry of Local Government is untimely.

They also say plans by the State to post county co-ordinators (CC) in the 47 units and a National Security Bill that locks out elected leaders at the counties from security matters may be tailored to weaken devolved governments.

"The danger is that we are likely to have parallel centres of power at the county level, with governors who understand the Constitution flexing their muscles against the county co-ordinators, who derive their powers from Nairobi," warns Mohamed Ali, a governance, peace and security consultant.

But political scientist Adams Oloo argues the Government has a right to post CCs to counties, given security is not a function of county governments under the new Constitution.

Another political scientist Frank Matanga of Masinde Muliro University agrees, saying in a unitary system of government like in Kenya, the national government has the overall powers over counties.

"There are various forms of devolution and it is only in an extreme situation like the US where regions have some higher level of autonomy. Our case is different because we still retain a unitary system where the national government will have control over the counties," added Prof Matanga.

Devolved funds

Differences on the way the Government should undertake devolution have of late exposed rifts in the Grand Coalition, with Prime Minister Raila Odinga indicating disagreements that have seen his deputies Uhuru Kenyatta (Finance) and Musalia Mudavadi (Local Government) clash over devolved funds, was a manifestation of the old order fighting changes that have come with the Constitution.

It is reported the Office of the President has finalised plans to post 47 county co-ordinators as a way of restructuring the Provincial Administration.

Provincial Administration Secretary Victor Okioma last week confirmed there were plans to deploy administrators to counties.

Sources at the OP have also indicated there is a hurry to install the CCs to give them time to handle security during the General Election next year.

Dr Ali says: "The proposal is misplaced and shows a fundamental error of judgement that is reminiscent of a static anti-reform mindset. The proposed county co-ordinators is equivalent of the Provincial Administration, an institution that has no legal, institutional efficacy and moral space in the new dispensation."

According to Ali, the fate of the Provincial Administration was sealed by the Constitution.

"The Constitution declined to offer substantive recognition to the Provincial Administration, except by providing an explicit road map on how it will be restructured. Instead, the Constitution unequivocally bestows the county administration to county governments. Article 183 (1) (C) says a county executive committee shall … manage and coordinate the functions of the county administration," added Ali.

He says control of the county administration by OP is tantamount to creating an administrative system that acts as an agent of the OP that could become another conveyer belt of ‘orders from above’.

Centres of power

"CCs operating side by side with the county government will water down ingredients of transparency and accountability. It creates multiple centres of power and avenues for the national government to meddle in the county affairs," added Ali.

Last year, there was uproar over reported plans by the Government to restructure the Provincial Administration and re-introduce paramount chiefs.

Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang’ and MPs under the Parliamentary Caucus for Reforms termed the restructuring as unconstitutional.

Kajwang’ had argued if there was anything the Constitution was grounded on, it was on dismantling the Provincial Administration. The Government, he said, should be bold to tell PCs, DC, and chiefs to pack and go.

While Oloo agrees with Ali that CCs could create a parallel system to that of the county administration, he argues clashes can be minimised through coordinating of functions.

Matanga said: "What is important is that county governments must come-up with policies that do not contradict national policies."

On the row over finances, Raila the disagreement symbolises tension between the old order and the new order, adding it is the difference between keeping control within the central government and empowering local communities.

"People living in the various regions know their problems best. It is they who should decide how to invest their region’s share of the national cake, and that is what the new constitution promises," said the PM, during a public lecture at Strathmore University.

Kangu, when contacted by The Standard On Sunday, remained tight-lipped.

"I am not going to comment. The Government can do what it wants. We have finalised our part," said Kangu.

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