Village forums take power to Makueni people through public participation

Governor Kivutha Kibwana holds a forum with a group of Makueni locals. [PHOTO: STANDARD]

A revolutionary idea is shaping up in Makueni County that has set tongues wagging. Governor Kivutha Kibwana’s novel model of “public participation” has confounded friends and foe as it begins to roll out barely a year before the next General Election.

In this the model, a six-tier process of engaging the people of Makueni in county decision-making and planning is being implemented by the county executive’s Department of Devolution and Public Service.

Although area leaders are sharply divided as to its value, it is unarguably the first of its kind in the country, perhaps even the continent.

“Essentially, the model targets to involve all Makueni residents in decision making on projects they want implemented at their levels — village, ward, sub-county and county level. We have just successfully implemented it in preparing our 2016/2017 budget,” Nzioki King’ola, the chief officer, County Department, said.

According to the model framework, at the top is County Forum comprising 1,000 people, 11 from each of the 60 sub-wards, 10 representatives from organised groups and 140 government officials. The forum, co-chaired by the Governor and his deputy,  is only convened once a year. Below the County Forum are six Sub-County Peoples Forum comprising 53 to 97 people— 11 from each ward and 20 representatives of organised groups.

The sub-county people’s forums will meet bi-annually. Slightly below them are 30 Ward Peoples Forum also to meet twice a year. This forum will comprise between 72 and 92 people— 11 from two sub-wards, 15 to 25 co-opted and 20 from organised groups. Between 2,160 and 2,760 people from the county will participate.

Below them is the Sub-Ward Peoples Forum, 60 of them and each comprising between 53 and 75 people. They will also hold meetings twice a year. The second last forum under Kibwana’s model is the Village Clusters Peoples Forum. There are 315 of them.

Political masterstroke

Each will have 143 participants drawn from clusters of 13 villages, making it a total of 40,045 residents making up this forum. The forums will hold meetings every quarter.

The lowest level forum in the scheme of things is the Village Peoples Forum, also feared to be sum the core of Kibwana’s political masterstroke There will be 3,345 of them throughout the vast county, each comprising at least 100 people from every village. They too will meet quarterly. “It is an inexpensive model. We are not paying for anything, really. They simply walk in and engage. We are only providing the platform but they own everything,” Governor Kibwana says.

According to the governor, the model is incapable of politicisation because “design-wise, it is purely developmental.”

He says the 11 developmental committee members in all the forums have no titles of treasurer, chairman, secretary and the like. “We believe in the people first. We are not scared of mwananchi being empowered through these engagements to our detriment. We believe an empowered citizen is of greater benefit than a disempowered one,” the Governor says.

Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior, however, disagrees. According to him, whose function is oversight over the county, the concept is an utter waste of resources and will collapse in a matter of time. The senator says the model duplicates the functions of the County Assembly and the county execute in a manner that circumvents the law. “

It is a political machine, if you ask me. It will only be used to endorse and not necessarily initiate any planning. Be that as it may, I believe it will collapse in no time because of its bureaucracy,” he said. The senator blames the county executive for implementing a public participation model without “public participation” in the first place: “It contradicts the whole thing to know that all other leaders were no consulted or briefed. It is an executive-driven agenda, not a county plan.” The senator also asks a horde of questions which the governor says are all moot as they are based on misunderstanding of the model: “Are they workers, will they report to the governor? What is the role of the MCA? Why was the Assembly bypassed?

If Kibwana is removed, will it remain? Are they paid? Can we afford a committee of 11 in every village?”

According to Mr King’ola, the model has left little or no place for politicking. Under Article One of the Constitution, the sovereign power belongs to the people. Sections 87 to 92 and 115 of the County Governments Act, 2012 outline the principles of public participation.