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Bring on referendum to help us fix resources allocation to counties

By Elias Mokua | April 10th 2019 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

The on-and-off proposed, but seemingly impending referendum is indeed a great opportunity for us voters to reclaim our rightful place in the management of the Kenya we want. 

Somewhere in the Constitution, we are told that political power belongs to the people. But, seriously, who are those people who have the power when corruption is ripping off even small businesses that majority of us depend on for livelihood?

Away from our evident inability to uproot corruption moles from our midst, we are now faced with a referendum that I find very tempting.

Obviously, the parties supporting and opposing the relevance of such a nationally captivating power game play do so based on their interests.

That is common sense anyway. Except for turning up at the ballot to vote, the rest of us are largely statistics up for grabs in the game plays.

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What actually is not common sense – or at least is rare – is that the referendum provides us a chance to rip off the benefits of being voters.

The outcome of a grassroots driven referendum often benefit the majority. Ours, to date, is elite driven for both those vehemently opposed and those who are dead serious in support.

So what must we do to rip off some benefits? Let us start with where we are weakest as Kenyan voters.

We trust elected leaders too much. We are a little bit like children of a bandit who have no idea what the ‘good parent’ is up to.

The agenda

We must learn to nurture a deep sense of mistrusting the government. For good reasons, not malice.

All the mechanisms of accountability and transparency including public participation are another way of saying “do not trust the government” until it proves itself.

The seemingly upcoming referendum – whenever that becomes clear – should help us assess not only the government performance in implementing the 2010 constitution but more importantly put the agenda of resource distribution at the heart of it. I was reminded by a speaker in a forum a while ago that a student who scores 15 per cent in an exam is encouraged to seek a life pathway outside school.

Scoring 30 or 45 per cent is failure and at best inviting a repeat. At 75 per cent a student scores anything from a B to an A depending, of course, on the grading system.

Translate this into the amount of resources that are distributed to the counties. Constitutionally counties should get at least 15 per cent of the national GDP, but God knows what percentage is actually disbursed to the counties.

In a national budget whose figures are in trillions, how can just 15 per cent go to the 47 county governments and one giant and ever borrowing government assumes responsibility for a whole 75 per cent?

Pragmatic way

Common sense dictates that power rests where money is in poverty stricken countries like ours where a majority struggle to make ends meet while a few flourish. Surely, are counties not duped to fight for drops when the ‘real thing’ is lying at the centre?

So, bring on the referendum. And hurry please. Simply reverse the resource distribution equation, 75 per cent to the counties and 15 per cent to the national government. This makes sense even from questionable policy principles such as utilitarianism.

Whatever the ‘humongous’ expenditure to the national government, let it be discussed in the county assemblies and as need arises, the counties fund the national government through the Council of Governors. This is a pragmatic way to advance the war against corruption if anyone is serious anyway.

County governments are corrupt to the marrow, but so is the national government.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is almost a lone voice in fighting the culture of corruption. Thankfully, he has a robust media in support.

Corrupt governments do not deserve public trust unless they prove otherwise. All systems of governance – where they function – are meant to meticulously and scrupulously oversight each other.

We know that government offices, for instance, are a common resource that must be placed under public scrutiny yet we are too afraid, and rightly so because we do not have sufficient whistleblower security, to yell at daytime looters.

As such, the proposed referendum is a great chance to make one step ahead in inching closer to national resources.

Dr Mokua is Executive Director – Jesuit Hakimani Centre

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