A recent highly circulated video showing a deputy county commissioner (DCC) in Mombasa being held hostage at the gate of a Chinese construction company site by a supervisor until he has had enough and shoves him aside, drove many Kenyans to the nostalgia of the pre-2010 Constitution days.
Fooling with officers of the Provincial Administration before it was restructured under the 2010 Constitution was akin to playing with fire.
“This service-oriented entity was the government’s eyes on the field and it could apply force when necessary,” former long serving Provincial Commissioner Joseph Kaguthi said yesterday.
Speaking about the Mombasa incident, Kaguthi, whose days were best remembered when he was in charge of Nyanza and later Nairobi, said one of the greatest weakening of this colonial relic, which drew its origins from the French Prefecture system, was robbing it command of the Administration Police Service (APS).
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“Administrators have no powers to execute their orders and have to rope in the police command even when they suspect the force’s complicity in areas like illicit brewing,” he said.
Nevertheless, that many had wrongly expected this service to be scrapped demonstrate just how essential it is to running the country, former Internal Security PS Mutea Iringo said.
With their colourful, wide ceremonial hats and khaki gab, these officers have remained a permanent fixture on the national political setup, mocking those who had written them off after the 2010 Constitution was passed.
The Provincial Administration is now better-funded though relegated to the background when devolution heads are around, but still as important as they were since Kenya became a British Protectorate in 1898.
The 2010 Constitution provided that the provincial administration would be restructured to conform with the new devolution structure and this has happened in change of names and administration boundaries only.
Everything else about the modus operandi that the colonial, Kenyatta, Moi, Kibaki and Uhuru governments have placed at the centre of their administration remains intact.
Many still do not know the Provincial Administration is currently known as the National Government Administration Office (NGAO), sexed up from the National Government Co-ordination Act 2013.
Kaguthi describes as most progressive Section 22 of the Act that gives NGAO officers protection from personal liability in the execution of their duties. “Nothing done by a public officer appointed under this Act shall, if done in good faith for the purpose of executing the functions of the office, render such officer personally liable for any action, claim or demand,” says the section.
Its structure remains largely the same, rising from assistant chief for a sub-location, chief for a location and assistant county commissioner (ACC) for a division presently equivalent to a ward in the devolved structure.
The new head of what was formerly known as a district but now called a sub-County is called a deputy county commissioner abbreviated as DCC.
Those formerly very powerful officials, especially during the reigns of presidents Kenyatta and Moi were formerly known as district commissioners (DC).
The DC in the colonial era and the first two regimes were important in managing the country.
They were also powerful officials who lorded over the entire government departments in their districts, which were 40 at independence, 41 in 1978 when Kenyatta died and 46 when multiparty democracy was restored in 1991.
Those officers who combined the security and administrative functions were until 1990 the returning officers in elections for Parliament and local authorities and could interfere in almost any human activity under their areas of jurisdiction, eliciting fear and loath.
The 46 districts plus Nairobi, which was run as a province with a provincial commissioner but no districts, are what the 2010 Constitution adopted as the new devolved units.
A new introduction into the NGAO chain to take care of the new structure is an officer called the county commissioner (CC).
At the apex of the provincial administration was the provincial commissioner (PC), a powerful functionary whose limousine flew the national flag, had a stately residence and lorded over the DCs in his area and reported directly to the president.
It was the PCs who would receive the president at the border of a neighbouring province and escort him within their areas. Sometimes, they would ride in the presidential limousine and host the Head of State in their mansions for lunch and sometimes a sleepover.
Under NGAO, those officers who control eight regions are referred to as regional commissioners (RC) who, despite reduced visibility, are still senior government functionaries with direct lines to the president.
Former long-serving PC David Musila who would later become the MP for Mwingi South and Deputy Speaker of Parliament and later on Kitui Senator has, in his autobiography Seasons of Hope, given a sneak preview in to how powerful their offices were.
Kaguthi, who retired in 1999, described the Provincial Administration as the Executive arm of the government in the field, saying any government that wishes to remove it could do so at its own peril.
Kaguthi said the fact that the administrators knew the country better than any other government officers meant they were best-placed to sort out the problems of the wananchi and were well-grounded in public service, management and paramilitary training.
“Where there are disputes between communities, it is always impossible for elected leaders to mediate but administrators are seen as neutral umpires and arbiters,” Kaguthi added.
He cited the recent intervention of Central and Rift Valley RCs in the border clashes between Maasai and Kikuyu communities in Ndeiya area shortly after Governor James Nyoro (Kiambu) and Joseph ole Lenku were stoned in the area.
According to Kaguthi, a well-functioning NGAO reduced baggage for other arms of government, citing the role chiefs and their assistants played in enforcing family law when liquidating estates of the deceased for confirmation by courts.
An addition to the NGAO structure not in the previous system is a non-remunerated grassroots position working under the assistant chiefs called the sub-area manager. This is the head of a village unit, the Nyumba Kumi cell.
According to NGAO sources, it is being explored how it will be made a remunerative position as well.
The initial attempt by the Kibaki government in 2012 to entrench the provincial government after 2010 Constitution was passed, was however stormy.
Kibaki had first declined to assent to the County Governments Bill as amended by Parliament, arguing it was unconstitutional after MPs sought to transfer some of the stipulated functions of the national government to the county governments, including coordinating some of the national government functions.
Parliament had proposed that DCs, DOs, and chiefs, report to governors so that they could be absorbed into the new devolved structure but Kibaki opined the national government had a constitutional mandate granted under Section 17 of the Sixth Schedule to restructure the Provincial Administration within a period of five years.