County assemblies have done well, but can do better with more funds

Meru county MCA'S sing praise and worship songs as the Assembly Speaker Ayub Bundi to give directions on impeachmemnt motion against Goverrnor Kawira Mwangaza. [George Kaimenyi, Standard]

One of the most phenomenal changes that was brought by the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, was devolution. The March 2013 general election marked the official launch of devolution, leading to the establishment of 47 new county governments and 47 county assemblies. County governments were demarcated into wards and thus election of Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) to represent the said units.

The new MCAs had an arduous task of setting up county assemblies and ensuring smooth performance of their constitutional mandate at a time when there was no precedent to follow. The last time Kenya attempted this form of government (majimboism) was at independence and it barely lasted a year.

At the time of setting up county governments, there was no single county legislation in place to govern different operations. MCAs had to start from scratch to enact most of the laws that are now in operation.

The MCAs have constitutional responsibilities of legislation, representation, and oversight. In addition, the County Governments Act stipulates the role of the MCAs under Section 9 to include vetting of County Executive Committee Members, Chief Officers and members of the County Public Service Board. They also approve policy and planning documents relating to the county governments such as County Integrated and Development Plan and Annual Development Plans.

The budget making process in devolved units is a function largely undertaken by MCAs. This involves undertaking public participation to determine community priorities, formulation, adoption and passage of the budget in the House.

MCAs undertake oversight role over the executive arm of county governments. This involves ensuring that county governments deliver in their mandate of service delivery, proper use of resources and adherence of public service leadership, integrity and governance. As a result, MCAs have put several governors and their CECs in check over non-performance and mishandling of resources.

Governors who have been impeached so far include Mike Mbuvi Sonko (Nairobi), Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu) and Mohamed Abdi Mahamoud (Wajir). Those who were impeached but were saved by the Senate include Martin Wambora (Embu), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Paul Chepwony (Kericho and Kawira Mwangaza (Meru).

County assemblies have undergone tremendous leadership growth from 2013 to date.  At the onset of devolution, there was so much confusion especially with respect to the transition process. Conflicts arose as to the place of leaders of the former administrative units vis-à-vis those created under county governments. With time, these roles were clearly defined leaving MCAs with a better opportunity to exercise their responsibilities.

There were also occasional disagreements between the county assemblies and the executive arm of government. Both arms of government have since come of age, appreciating the need to work together in discharge of their special constitutional duties while respecting the principle of separation of powers.

MCAs have successfully vied and clinched other positions in leadership such as membership to the National Assembly, Senate and governorship. They include the governors of Isiolo, Nakuru and Mandera who once served as MCAs. This is enduring evidence that the capacity of MCAs has risen to national level. The place of devolution is without doubt in safe hands and growth of counties is assured.

Several public surveys indicate that Kenyans interact with their MCAs more compared to other elected representatives. This means the public trust and confidence in MCAs has been growing.

The growth in MCAs leadership and their enhanced capacity in strengthening devolution is attributed to continuous capacity building by county assemblies, strong co-ordinating body (County Assemblies Forum) and mentorship by National Assembly and the Senate. This growth is however hampered by lack of financial autonomy of county assemblies, meagre resources allocated to the assemblies, low remuneration for the MCAs and the ever-growing demand and push for social support from the community.

The lack of financial autonomy has been a big hindrance to county assemblies in the execution of their oversight role over the county executive. The county executive controls the funds allocated to the county assembly through, among others, the requirement of the CEC (Finance) to be a signatory of the Recurrent Expenditure Account of the County Assembly.

It is clear from here that the county assembly is at the mercy of the county executive since no assembly’s can run without funds. County assemblies would be safer if the Clerk of the County Assembly is the only signatory of the Recurrent Expenditure Account. This would go a long way in strengthening the oversight role of the assemblies.

There is a deceptive narrative making rounds among Kenyans that’s county governments are allocated a lot of resources to run their operations. While this might be true to some extent, a look at the county budget allocations shows the large gap between the amount of resources allocated to the County Executive and the County Assembly.

The budget allocations to county assemblies has remained unchanged for a number of years and in fact has reduced in the current financial year. When the county assembly is expected to deal with pending bills and staff salary increments each year, the amount of resources allocated are stretched, thus straining the operations of county assemblies. A gradual increase in the resources allocated to county assemblies would ensure county assemblies have capacity to carry out their constitutional mandate.