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Senate flexes muscle to protect devolution

POLITICS
By Kenan Miruka | May 29th 2013

By Kenan Miruka

Kenya: As the battle for seniority between the Senate and the National Assembly rages, Senators have stood their ground on control of resources going to counties.

A number of Senators have expressly stated that the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) should be administered under county governments and not under MPs, a view opposed vehemently by MPs.

Last week, Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) Chairman Micah Cheserem decried the confusion between the two Houses and the Executive over such funds, saying the Senate and the National Assembly should have nothing to do with the funds but only play an oversight role.

Role of senate

However, Commission for Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) issued a statement published in local dailies on the legislative process of the Division of Revenue Bill.

“CIC notes with great concern the ongoing supremacy for power debate between the National Assembly and the Senate, especially with regard to its effect on the Division of Revenue Bill,” read part of the statement.

CIC said that article 96 of the Constitution sets out the role of the Senate to include representing and protecting the interests of counties and considering, debating and approving bills concerning counties.

The statement further said that Senate must be involved in the approval of the Division of Revenue Bill and called for establishment of dispute resolution mechanisms including mediation committees by the two houses to resolve any differences.

Treasury under fire

And in the wake of this confusion, senators have vowed to ensure Treasury does not frustrate devolution by withholding funds meant for counties on grounds that the devolved governments lack infrastructural and human capacity to audit expenditure.

Treasury has indicated that it will release funds meant for counties on a quarterly basis in a bid to keep a tight leash on the spending of county governments. The proposed system of disbursement has been met with opposition by county officials who alleged a plot to undermine their work plans.

Funds increased

Initially, counties had been allocated Sh198 billion but after protests from the Senate and governors, the figure was raised to Sh210 billion by Parliament. Following a unanimous amendment to the Division of Revenue Allocation Bill 2013 by Parliament, the 47 counties will receive Sh210 billion from the central Government. The figure represents 312 per cent of the total national budget of Sh721.6 billion.

This comes even as the supremacy tussles intensified, with House Speaker Justin Muturi ruling that Senate had no role in scrutinising the Division of Revenue Allocation Bill.

Before going on recess last Thursday, Senate made changes to the Division of Revenue Bill and unanimously approved Sh248 billion for county governments up from the Sh210 billion set aside earlier. It further barred the Treasury secretary Henry Rotich from altering the figure.

“Treasury has no powers in determining how countiesmanage their affairs. Counties are accountable to the CRA, which will monitor spending in counties. The central government has no role in this,” said Nyamira Senator Mongare bw’Okongo.

He said the national and county governments are fairly independent of each other and Treasury should wait for annual reports on expenditure before drawing conclusions on fiscal discipline.

“There are some conservatives and Treasury mandarins out to kill devolution by making the process of releasing funds convoluted. The games of the old order will not be accepted and so all money set aside for counties should be released at once because counties have ready work plans,” he adds.

Okong’o said that Senate’s relevant committee on Treasury has power to summon the Cabinet Secretary concerned to explain any attempts to frustrate devolution as per section 94 of the Constitution.

Double allocation

Senators have argued that it is their duty to ensure devolution succeeds, and that they will thus ensure that money is pumped into the county governments through the Division of Revenue Bill.

They also maintain that since a number of functions in the national government have not been devolved, there was a possibility of double allocation of resources.

They have thus warned the Treasury against using past criteria, which they say was skewed in determining the cost of devolved functions.

Treasury supported

But even as Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro said that devolution is about sharing financial resources, MPs argued that they were entitled to having a say in the sharing out of revenue at national level, and that senators’ move was uncalled for.

But some senators have differed on Treasury’s move.

Nominated Senator Naisula Lesuuda said there was need to guard against sending messages that create an impression that the devolved government was being stifled by the national government.

“I don’t see any problem if the funds are released quarterly so long as at the end of the financial year, monies meant for a particular project are available to counties. We need to appreciate that tax collection is a continuous process and in any case, you don’t need a whole project sum at once so there is no problem if disbursement is staggered,” she said.

Keen senate

She, however, maintained that Senate would be keenly watching how resources are allocated and utilised by the county and national governments to ensure devolution is respected.

“The Constitution is clear about the roles of the Senate and National Assembly. As our Speaker ruled, Senate comes in on any matter that touches on counties and I don’t think there is any Bill that does not touch on these units,” she added.

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