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Greed, the spanner in the works for devolution in Kenya

By Tania Ngima | Oct 18th 2016 | 4 min read

Sometime last year while conducting research into the various countries in which devolution has worked, I came across a report that took an in-depth look at the successes and challenges of decentralising power.

The report stated that in some cases, it could take up to 50 years to fully reap the fruits of a devolved system of administration.

My first reaction was that we do not have 50 years to wait to live in a properly functioning state. And it still is.
To call Kenya’s devolution process a success or a failure is an oversimplification of the significant nuances and complexities that accompany any kind of power shift.

And I do acknowledge that for some regions of the country, this is the best gift that they could ever have received.

Regions now have access to water, roads; however rudimentary that are now passable, leaders that are accessible and visible – the list goes on. And I cannot minimize the impact that this makes on counties and regions that previously felt marginalized and sidelined.

However, the biggest risk that could befall us is interpreting these instances, however positive, as indicators of success. They are not, not by a long shot.

There are a multitude of reasons why I can see devolution taking close to 50 years to work and bring us close to any semblance of proper governance.

The first is, obviously, our leadership or the lack of it. Because of the decades upon decades of marginalisation and poor governance that we have faced, instead of ground zero we are starting from a negative place.

The political elite have long been condemned for the lack of attention to certain regions for various reasons, whether from an economic contribution perspective or deep-seated alliances. Achieving equality therefore requires fulfilling the most rudimentary needs for citizens in places where government has been virtually non-existent since independence.

In the same way, elected representatives from those regions, be it governors, MCAs or senators are plagued by the same afflictions. We thrust individuals into situations where the amount of money they could make was now only limited by their ambition, or to put it more bluntly, greed.

And sadly, found out that this knows no bounds. The latest audit into the Constitution shows some interesting but predictable results.

It says that Kenyans are overrepresented by lawmakers and recommends certain changes which will be debated by the same Parliamentarians.

Tasking lawmakers to make any downward adjustments in either their number or size of positions is an exercise in futility, as we have seen before. The report though, only confirms what we as citizens already know. That we are not getting the value for money that maintaining these so-called leaders entails.

The public wage bill, which we have long decried, has been steadily rising at a faster rate than the national economy. While between 2012 and 2014 the economy grew by just over 5 per cent, the wage bill rose by 15.42 and 16.75 per cent in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Kenya’s Parliament is one of the largest in the world with each of the 2,600 MPs, Senators and MCAs representing 16,000 people. In comparison to other African countries such as Nigeria with 175 million people, 1,447 representatives represent almost 121,000 people each while in Ethiopia the ratio is just under one to fifty thousand.

Additionally, we spend on average, Sh20 million on each MP and their staff cost Sh7 million more than before we implemented the Constitution. Our lawmakers are probably the smartest in the world too.

They figured that the way to keep their pay out of the purse strings of the taxman was to keep their allowances on an even keel with their salaries.

While they are well paid by any standards and certainly by the standards of an economy of our size, their allowances are exorbitant and go beyond the basic pay.

That we have a country where the poverty levels at an all-time high, that is unable to provide the basic amenities to its citizens yet legislators who are among the best paid in the world, in cases more well paid than most developed countries is a sham and a show that it is not Kenyans’ interests they are representing but their own.

The report goes further to cite waste and the national and county levels, supported by increasing levels of expenditure. We all recall when the auditor general’s office, earlier this year, made the startling remarks that only 1 percent of the country’s budget was incurred in a lawful and effective way.

Though there was a spirited denial of the low percentage cited, no one argued that a significant chunk of tax monies could not properly be accounted for pointing to flagrant misuse and institutional excesses.

However, expecting lawmakers to implement the findings of this report would mean that they are representing the views of Kenyans who elected them. So far though, we all know whose interests they stand for and it is not the larger electorate, so why would they start now?

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