Referendum debate: Address over-representation to cut government expenditure
By JOSEPH LISTER NYARINGO | April 22nd 2019
The referendum debate gaining momentum from all sides of the political aisle in the country is healthy. Once again, Kenyans have the opportunity to look at all flaws in the current constitution to streamline it.
As a developing country, we need to scale down over-representation so that we can address the bloated wage burden. This is an area Kenyans should debate extensively since it affects the funding of development projects at the national and county governments.
Our country has a bloated legislature. There is no logic why a nation of 45 million people should have 358 Members of Parliament and 67 Senators. The current constituencies should be merged.
The United States, a superpower, has 50 governors representing each State in the union with 2 Senators each. The lower legislative Chamber-House of Representatives has 435 members. One may then conclude that we are either naïve as a country or do not care about fiscal responsibility.
It’s also evident that the duplication of roles at the Counties has ballooned the wage bill and consequently, a toll on the exchequer. The funds that should go for development are utilized for recurrent expenditure like salaries and other overhead expenses. This is the primary reason for the slow pace of growth in the counties.
The raging debate about the referendum should therefore not be about President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession in 2022, but about real issues that affect the country.
Laws are not carved on stones but formed by humans to be changed, augmented, scrapped or improved to suit prevailing governance systems and processes in any nation.
Radical as it may sound, it will be ideal to reduce the number of constituencies by fusing small ones. We also need to consider abolishing all nominations slots for MCAs, MPs, Senators, and the position of women representatives.
The role of the Senate in the legislative process is somewhat ambiguous. If their oversight role on counties is taken care of by the County Assemblies, why not abolish it to save funds that can be utilized for development?
Ironically, this is a year that electoral boundaries are supposed to be reviewed by the IEBC according to the law. Who knows some communities will still press for new constituencies or wards when common sense dictates that it has become hard for the country to sustain the current mapped electoral areas?
There are no defined and clear roles for County commissioners when we have elected Governors who are the CEOs of their respective counties. This has often created a conflict of interest between the two offices; thereby hampering service delivery. The office of County commissioners should be abolished.
Excessive bureaucracy is wasteful and a delay in service delivery to the general public. The area needs to be investigated both at the national and county levels as the referendum debate gains traction.
We need to look at what is workable or beneficial to the country and not what is politically expedient to the ruling elite. It’s through downsizing unnecessary bureaucracies nationally and at the County levels that Kenya can move forward and consequently, develop economically.
There is no doubt the current constitution is better than the one we had before 2010. However, the drafters failed to adhere to one fundamental aspect: the ramifications of the bloated legislature and its impact on the national economy. A small government is a panacea for Kenya’s economic success. It should also be remembered that former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who hinted during the 2010 referendum campaigns that anomalies in the current constitution can be rectified later after it's passed. The right time to look at it again is ripe.
Kenyans once again have a golden opportunity to point out the pros and cons in the current constitution to streamline the weak areas. The document to be arrived at should conform to the country’s fiscal regime.
Antagonists of the referendum debate like Deputy President William Ruto should play it cool this time around. Let him allow Kenyans to debate how they want to be governed since it’s the essence of democracy. Nevertheless, the referendum debate should not be about current or future leaders but Kenya.
Finally, a stitch in time saves nine. Kenyans have a golden opportunity to chart a new path through a referendum. What shall be arrived at must ensure an inclusive, just, fair and equitable society.
Joseph Lister Nyaringo is the president of Kenya Patriotic Movement, a diaspora lobby based in the US
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