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Dare not reduce the number of counties

COMMENTARY
By Ally Jamah | December 29th 2015

Proposals by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and others to bring down the prohibitive costs of governing the country make much sense except the bit about reducing the number of counties.

Kuria wants counties to be slashed from the current 47 to 18 while Mwingi Central legislator Joe Mutambu wants the devolved units reduced to 25.

The other proposals floated by Kuria — reducing the number of MPs, Members of the County Assemblies and doing away with the senators —seem reasonable and may potentially attract considerable support from Kenyans.

However, the terribly high cost of governing this country can be brought down significantly even without reducing the current number of counties, which were created primarily as channels of taking resources and decision-making instruments down to the grassroots.

Reducing the number of counties goes directly against the very spirit and letter of the new Constitution, which Kenyans overwhelmingly voted for, in which devolution is at the centre.

Fewer counties mean less devolution since decision-making and resources will be taken further away from the people if several counties are amalgamated as suggested by Kuria and others. This is totally unacceptable.

As a matter of fact, the country is in desperate need for more devolved units and not less to ensure equitable socio-economic development in all parts of the country, especially the marginalised areas.

In themselves, the number of counties have not increased the burden of governance for Kenyans. On the contrary, the cost of governance has been increased by the high number of elected and appointed positions within the national and county governments.

This is the heart of the matter that needs to be addressed urgently and decisively.

The number of superfluous elective and appointed positions at the national and county levels can be done away with without harming devolution, which many Kenyans support overwhelmingly.

As suggested by Kuria, the number of MPs and Members of County Assemblies should be reduced significantly while the Senate can also be done away with, provided sufficient safeguards are put in place to protect devolution from being watered down.

This will free up valuable and scarce resources that should be invested prudently in enhancing the well-being of Kenyans all across the country.

Besides reducing the number of government officials, elected or appointed, we need robust measures to rein in the current runaway corruption and wastage within all levels of government.

Sadly, there appears to be little political will and stamina to take the issue of cutting waste in government, which can be done without changing the Constitution, head-on.

Reducing the number of counties makes little sense. It is obvious that despite the high level of graft and inefficiencies, counties are accelerating socio-economic development at rates faster than would have been possible if everything was being done in Nairobi as has been the case in the last 50 years.

For instance, some regions are witnessing their roads being paved for the first time since independence, while the provision of critical services like health and water is reaching areas that were out of the radar of the central government for many years.

Counties, especially those in arid and semi-arid parts of the country, are credited with mitigating the negative impacts of drought that previously resulted in mass deaths of livestock and need for urgent relief food.

The creation of the counties have also enhanced national stability significantly and reduced the feeling of exclusion that many Kenyans often felt when everything was run from Nairobi. Only some few counties have experienced conflict due to ethnic or clan rivalries to capture or control devolved power and resources

The proposal to reduce the number of counties seems suspect. Ever since the Constitution was passed, there has been strong resistance to fully implement it by some powerful people who prefer the previous form centralised governance.

These elements, who have benefited greatly from the central government rule since the country attained self-rule, have always viewed devolution with hostility. They are now exploiting the frustration of Kenyans over the high costs of governing the country to roll back devolution.

Kenyans are not sick and tired of devolution; they are only sick and tired of the massive wastage of public resources that has emerged not only from the county government but also the national government through bloated wage bills and graft.

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