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Is the National Assembly trying to kill devolution?

By Yvonne Okwara | March 20th 2017
Senate members during a past special sitting.(Photo:Boniface Okendo/Standard)

Let’s talk about the proposal from the National Assembly that will no doubt re-ignite the sibling rivalry it has had with the Senate.

So the Budget and Appropriations Committee, in what it says is a bid to tame the ballooning wage bill, has proposed to scrap the Senate, and have governors appointed by the President rather than being elected. They want this and a few other proposals put to a Referendum on August 8th while we have our General Election.

Where to begin with this one? First let’s do some simple arithmetic, shall we? The National Assembly has 349 members, the senate has just 67. If you really want to cut down on expenses, it is rather obvious which one should be scrapped.

Further, in terms of value for money, I am not too sure about the value we get from the 349 members themselves. The 11th parliament will go down in history as being riddled with so many scandals, that many have questioned its very ability to oversight the executive.

The scandals range from the benign to the most outrageous, in this House, members have falsified travel documents to claim allowances, the parliamentary accounts committee has been involved in a billion shilling scandal, and the agriculture committee too has not been left behind.

Let’s not even mention the vetting of constitutional commissioners that is how we ended up with Philip Kinisu who resigned less than a year later, due to a ‘minor’ oversight by the vetting committee. I could go on.

But let’s try the other proposal – that of having governors appointed by the President. Who would even think of that in 2017? Does that not take us back to what many Kenyans like to refer to as the ‘dark old days’ of the monster known as the provincial administration? When some 8 very demigods loomed large in the provinces as they did the President’s bidding? When one man sitting at State House had the power to decide the fate of millions of citizens hundreds of kilometres away?

What is perhaps more surprising about this proposal is the person leading the charge. Rev. Musyimi has been around for decades, if you don’t remember him, allow me to refresh your memory: the ordained Baptist minister rose through the ranks within the church to become the General Secretary of the NCCK. He led the famous parallel constitution reform initiative at Ufungamano that was founded on among other things the desire to clip the immense powers of the Presidency. I therefore find this latest proposal by his committee at odds with the man who has such reformist credentials.

The wage bill is a real national question and difficult choices will have to be made across the board. But to resort to a short cut that at the very least undermines the very foundations of devolution is to take the country for a ride. The country must engage in a genuine conversation that may well begin with asking the question of whether, the house in which the good reverend sits really needs 349 members.

That’s my take!


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