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Why Kenyan deputy governors feel left out

NAIROBI: When President Uhuru Kenyatta opened the Devolution Conference in Kisumu last week, all the elected leaders in the county were introduced to the audience by the host governor Jack Raguma. The only exception was Ruth Odinga, the deputy governor. While this act of omission led to a hue and cry as expected, it only reinforced the feeling by many that deputy governors are just there, as flower girls, if you like.

Whereas the underlying tiff between the governor and his deputy is public knowledge, no one expected that it would come out in such a national forum.

The frosty relations between governors and their deputies in some counties have intensified. A few are known, many go on behind the scenes.

For selfish reasons, deputy governors could be the only Kenyans cringing when the accolades pour that devolution is working. They feel left out of the devolution wagon. They are mere spectators in a game of power and money and people, if you get what I mean. During the conference, one notable absentee was the deputy governor of Machakos Bernard Kiala, who sent a whatsApp message to his colleagues saying he could not make it because he had not been “facilitated” by the county due to his rivalry with the governor.

Yet all leaders from the counties, including deputy governors, were invited to the forum. In fact, he added that he has been denied many privileges he is entitled to, due the differences with his boss.

Most of the deputy governors are either a frustrated lot or are enjoying a passive and relaxed working environment.

The office of the Deputy Governor is a creation of the Constitution. Section 180 of the Supreme Law states that a governor must have a running mate to get elected. Once a governor has been elected, his deputy becomes automatically elected.

Chapter 11 of the Constitution describes the composition of the county government and the functions of all the offices including that of the deputy governor.

But the only functions ascribed to the deputy governor are set out in section 179; s/he is the deputy Chief Executive Officer of the county and deputises the governor in his absence.

The only other place the Constitution refers to the Deputy Governor is in section 181, involving the removal of the governor. Here, the deputy governor gets the honour of being the apparent heir. But the Constitution does not mention the deputy governor’s removal process. In essence it is the safest seat to be in.

The County Assembly, which can impeach the governor, has no power over the deputy governor as far the law - as it is - is concerned. However, the Senate is in the process of amending the county governments act to make it possible for the deputy governors to be impeached, but there is also a common belief that such an amendment should also create a clear role for the second in command in the counties.

Through the constitutionally granted powers, the governor can frustrate his deputy by denying him the benefits of the office.

The other employees are directly answerable to the governor, but not the deputy. In the event of a power contest, they are likely to swing the way of the governor. Only in a few counties is there a power-sharing arrangement similar to that of a president and his deputy. In areas where there has been political alliance of different political parties, the coalition is able to withstand only if a bargain between the two county bosses exists. However, where both the governor and his deputy belong to the same political party, unless other balancing factors such ethnic loyalty play a role, the deputy is likely to be disadvantaged.

Since the deputy governor is a politician, the likelihood of resentment might be high, leading to competition. Internal wrangles are likely to stall the work of the county because of the inability of the governor to remove his deputy. The solution lies in changing the law. The first option can be to create clearly defined roles for the deputy governors. This will, I believe, make this office useful and increase efficiency at the county level.

The second option is to make the position independently elective. The person running for this office should run independently and then he can sign a pact with the governor.

This makes sense since the governor shall not sideline his deputy upon winning an election. The third option is to abolish the office totally and allow the governor to appoint an assistant among his committee of executives. Failure to change the law, we shall only have deputy governors creating parallel centres of power within the counties. Ultimately, service delivery will be undermined.

But the easiest option to resolve this issue is the amendment of the County Government’s Act to accommodate an active role for the deputy governors.