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Presidential candidates are making MCA-type promises

ODM Leader Raila Odinga (left) with Deputy President William Ruto during the Jamuhuri Day Celebrations at Uhuru Gardens Nairobi. December 12, 2021. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Every elective seat matters. Those high up (the presidency) and those at the bottom (the MCAs) all serve the citizens. The Constitution clearly provides mandates for each office and the means to operationalise the services of the offices.

The challenges we face in accessing government services starts during electioneering. Right from the misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies and, above all, lack of respect for each constitutional office to exercise its mandate aspiring politicians campaign oblivious of the scope of their job descriptions.

As the August 9 election campaigns hot up, politicians at all levels are making all kinds of promises. Some are outrageously unhelpful for example promising billions to everyone, everywhere. We know that government funds are disbursed after a budget process. Of course, people wielding power a step above others, have ways of manipulating systems to get things done their way, which in itself is against the spirit of patriotism. People in higher offices also have privileges that may translate into determining fund allocation. However, every office should keep to its lane.

The principle of subsidiarity requires that people at the lower ranks be allowed to run their show. Put simply, the people at the top should not envy the grassroots' work. Promises by presidential candidates, for instance, should not be about providing Sh6,000 to the elderly and deserving people gracious as this gesture may sound. Leave that kind of work to the governors. The mama mboga and boda boda riders should be attended to by MCAs and MPs. The senators, women representatives and governors should concern themselves with higher goals of county development and sustainability. 

For heaven’s sake, let presidential candidates talk about fair governance systems, taxes, curbing corruption at the top of government, national healthcare, national economic agenda, national security, national borrowing, generation of national ‘Marshal Plans’, ways to improve our sports, set up national research centres, relating with the international community, among thousands of other high level issues.

It is not helpful for development when national leaders suffocate MCAs' operational space. You do not find MCAs in government ministries planning how the national government should operate. In the same breadth, the national government should respect the principle of subsidiarity and let governors, senators and Woman Reps to do their bit. The county bosses should also allow MCAs to handle the ward business.

The point is political deceit starts when elected leaders cross duty boundaries. It is very easy for an MCA to apportion blame to the governor who makes promises that, ideally, only the MCA should make. The choppers flying left and right to campaign for national positions give the impression that devolution depends on the goodwill of the central government. Far from it, counties have a constitutional right to development the same way as wards. While we understand that national leadership compels candidates to sell themselves across the country, some of the promises pronounced in political rallies reduce the prestige of a national office.

Besides, there are people who have failed to shed off the dependency syndrome. Listen to the main basis on which coalitions and party formations are made. It is all about “when you get there … do us a b c ….” As long as we keep glorying the leadership above us, the principles of fair governance, the principle of subsidiarity, will remain on paper and in conferences. The danger here is that the people in higher offices will continue to grab power spaces they are not constitutionally entitled to.

One cure of this malaise is through electing independent candidates. We thought they should stand out as persons of independent thought. We thought they would scatter cartels in legislative houses at counties and national level. Independent candidates would have the space to differ with the government and opposition sides without falling victim to party hierarchies. Nope! We are wrong. They too are queuing for the promises from above.

Dr Mokua is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication