Corrupt as most of the governors are, going by the Auditor General’s reports; we have reached a point of no return. The fellows are here to stay, and anyway, many studies have indicated the remarkable benefits of the devolved system. Long live the new kings.
That reality having been established, in spite of the good things we can list on the devolved system of governance there is a real risk of reinventing and reinstating the scrapped municipal council structure through the backdoor. This can happen for several reasons.
The centre still holds
First, sadly our political system largely remains centralist not on paper but in practice. More and more, the voice at the centre is echoing louder than that of governors. Take the ‘Big Four’ priority agenda for the National Government, for example. Even with the best intentions, agriculture is a devolved function. Why not support it at a lower level as any other obligations of the National Government and in the ‘Big Four’ focus on major concerns like climate change (which includes environmental protection) whose negative impact requires the direct intervention of the national and (international) government?
Second, over the years, Parliament has failed to demonstrate a spirit of nationalism. While the majority side has the party obligation to support the agenda of the presidency, experience has shown that at the hour of need, the August House has reduced its dignity to serve political interests at the expense of public interest. The controversial legislations such as the amendments to the Election Act just before last year’s general election is a case in point.
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Yes, we must believe in our systems. But, we must also change systems that have failed.
Third, corruption – a shared ‘value’ between the National and County government – has its origins in the reason why, typical of our voter behaviour, we elect leaders, namely to raise our chances of accessing the so called “county/national cake.” Surely, if we have elected leaders with a mandate to help us “eat also” why should we turn around and expect them to oversee a fair distribution of resources? This means the scramble for the centre will continue for the foreseeable future.
Fourth, the space for the civil society has significantly been suffocated by the governments. Take the counties for example, most of the more vocal civil society activists in some counties have been co-opted into the system so they can ‘quietly feed.’
The outcome is a felt gap in meaningful public participation. Holding public barazas and town hall meetings without informed civil society activists only amounts to rubber-stamping complex agenda for an ordinary person. It is not possible that a credibly accountable and transparent government can operate without a respected space for the civil society.
Lastly (although there are more compelling reasons) the power play between the National and County Government often addressed in words such as “… for the sake of development of our people…” is detrimental to accountability on the use of public funds. Over the years, there is a clear pattern indicating that governors who fight for the strengthening of devolution eventually mellow down and join the ‘big boys’.
The outcome is a discouragement for anyone who truly believes in devolution, and advocacy for entrenchment of human rights.
The basic questions
These considerations help us to raise basic questions: is it possible to maximise accountability and transparency in our country? If so how? If not why? In whose interest is a weakened devolution system, and why?
My take is this: let the county bosses, the governors, take over the running of the treasury. It should be the one and only ministry that the both parliament and the national executive should have no control over. Let the governors have full control over budgeting and planning for National and County expenditure. The national executive can then, in the spirit of separation of duties, implement.
The reason is that there is no better way of discussing the national budget before, after approval and meticulously examining its expenditure than to use already existing county assemblies. We have a system in place in form of county governments that will give a majority of Kenyans a direct say and therefore impact on what ministries deserve what amount of funding. Aren’t we for accountability and transparency, anyway?
Besides, this will be one way of creating and sustaining the elusive spirit of nationalism. With the borrowed debt overshooting the ceiling, how do Kenyans pay for a debt they know not why it was necessary and how it was used?
If we do not address shared values such as accountability and transparency, it will be impossible to sustain Kenya as is today.
Dr Elias Mokua, SJ Director – Jesuit Hakimani Centre