On the chilly day of 27th August 2010, Kenya promulgated one of the most progressive constitutions in the recent past. Amongst the great benefits of this new constitution was devolution. Speaking of devolution, the constitution gave immense powers to Members of County Assembly. Previously, councillors were controlling meager municipal council collections which were not near sh.100 million averagely. Fast forward now, MCAs are dancing with tremendous figures of not less than sh. 3 billion. During the last elections, it didn’t hit the electorate that much of the progress of counties solely depended with the quality of men and women they voted in to sit at the county assemblies. Forget the noise on referendum, where in the world do people demand more money without accounting for what they have beforehand.
MCAs work is now akin to what the National Assembly does in Nairobi; legislate, oversight and represent. period. Unlike the past when the country depended on the mercy of government of the day for development to see light of the day, with devolution, power is squarely placed on the hands of county governments. It is up to the leaders you voted to enact progressive laws, ensure prudency and accountability of tax payers’ money and more importantly uphold the highest level of integrity.
We are all cognizant of the fact, that is easier said than done. In fact integrity or lack of it, is what will draw the line between successful counties and failed ones. The cliche of blaming the national government every now and then will fade with time. We must realize the rain will start beating us if we do not hold our MCAs accountable. It can no longer be business as usual if we let bureaucracy, mediocrity, and unprofessionalism to be the new norm of county governments. How we start the trajectory will go a long way in influencing how we finish. It’s just like the constructor of house gambling with a weak foundation; it will end up affecting the whole building.
We must subject MCAs to the highest level of accountability. My heart bleeds with pain when we hear of MCAs holding governors at ransom across the country. If it is not demand for unavailing trips abroad, its advocacy for hefty allowance, bribes and bodyguards to guard them round the clock. No one cares about ‘Wanjiku’s’ security. The highest spending practices are on salaries, travel and conferences. For a long time we blamed Moi for bringing down the economy in the 90s. What we do not know, is how many thousands of ‘Mois’ we have sired since he relinquished power. It’s sad that we that we have devolved corruption and domesticated it.
The Office of Controller of Budget has put Members of the County Assemblies on notice over spending billions of shillings on foreign trips at the expense of developing legislation and facilitating county activities. The County Budget Implementation Review report, which covers the first quarter of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, raised some eyebrows when it was released to the public January 8th. The report revealed that county governments spent 13.33 billion shillings ($155.2 million) from July to September 2013. These expenditures were classified into four categories: personnel emoluments, operations and maintenance, development, and servicing of debts and pending bills. Of the total spending, 55% went towards personal emoluments, 38% for operations and maintenance, and only 7% towards development programmes. Out of Kenya’s 47 counties, 27 spent no money on development projects. The other 20 counties spent 872.9 million shillings ($10.2 million) on development activities, with the highest ratio of development expenditure to total expenditure in Nyeri (30.3%), Tana River (26.0%) and Tharaka Nithi (25.5%). The report also found that the counties spent 1.1 billion shillings ($12.4 million) on domestic and foreign travel, 241.9 million shillings ($2.8 million) on conferences, and 161 million shillings ($1.9 million) on training.
Narrowing down on Makueni County, a typical county that has been marred by infighting, high voltage politics, never ending ultimatums and blackmail, it has been a sad story to even write about. There were reports running around that MCAs were paid sh. 100,000 to impeach Governor Kivutha only to realize the latter was spearheading dissolution of the county government through collection of signatures to bring up a petition. He termed the differences as’ irreconcilable.’ For Makueni County and the rest of Africa, that was unheard of, our leaders never quit, they die in office; ask President Mugambe. Am told Kivutha Kibwana is by far popular than a cross section of the MCAs, who by the way know too well once bitten, twice shy. This has caused many of them to wag tails between their legs ‘praying’ status quo will prevail.
Bottom line: we have much ground to cover. Devolution will make or break our very sensitive economy. If MCAs will be led by bigotry and continue enacting unattainable and irrational taxes hence scaring and chasing away investors, we will ‘cry in the toilet.’ The buck stops with the electorate; our future depends on whether we can discern leaders who bend rules from those who embrace integrity to longevity.