Excerpt : Devolution is about grassroots democracy and giving the people power to exercise their constitutional mandate. The framers of our constitution were clear in their minds that devolution is sharing power by cascading it down from the unitary centre to the counties, in a manner that promotes good governance, transparency and accountability through a system of checks and balances

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Devolution is about grassroots democracy and giving the people power to exercise their constitutional mandate. The framers of our constitution were clear in their minds that devolution is sharing power by cascading it down from the unitary centre to the counties, in a manner that promotes good governance, transparency and accountability through a system of checks and balances. Above all, its aim was to ensure equitable sharing of resources, both vertically between the national and county governments, and horizontally amongst the counties.

Devolution has undoubtedly ushered in new opportunities, and with it challenges that we, as a country, must surmount in order to reap its fruits. As we celebrate the second anniversary of the inauguration of devolution in Kenya, it is imperative that we earnestly reflect on our successes and challenges.

In some instances, devolved governments have transformed into a mere shift of power from the centre in to the hands of the local autocracy. Further, it has led to expensive duplication of ineffective service delivery, over-bureaucracy in decision-making process, weakening accountability and lack of inclusiveness among others. Structural issues in the different arms of county governments, and intergovernmental disputes with the national government have also manifested itself in many ways.

However, it is not all gloom. For the first time since independence, many parts of this nation are heavily expectant with hopes of economic development. There is a sense of nationhood even in areas that were hitherto resentful of the central government.  

Resources, in some cases abundant, are flowing into counties, with resultant employment and economic opportunities. As one traverses this nation, we see infrastructural improvements and a resurgent countryside. Efficiency in service delivery is evident in several counties. Overall, there is optimism that devolution is making a difference.

Residents of each county voted in leaders to steer their counties to greater heights of development. Every county started on a clean slate, in an aggressive race to performer better, and deliver on development perspectives. As in every race, some will clinch victory by meeting the expectations of their people; others will fall on the wayside, unable to fulfil their mandate. 

Entrenching good governance in public service requires selfless effort and determination by the leaders, and patriotism and sense of obligation by the citizens. In politics, the voters often long for virtuous qualities such as truthfulness that goes beyond words. As US President Barrack Obama once said, ‘a gap exists between our professed values and ideals, and the actual realities we witness every day. A government that truly represents its people will require a different kind of politics that reflect our lives’. In essence, we must do things differently from yesteryears, and away from Nairobi, if we are to make that difference in the lives of our people.

Article 96 mandates the Senate to represent the interests of counties at national level, a function my colleagues and I proudly perform. Article 96 also empowers the Senate to exercise oversight over national revenue allocated to counties. 

This mandate is exercised at institutional level of the Senate as there is no provision to directly oversee the county executive. Senators are not part of the county executive in any capacity, nor do they hold brief for anyone in executive. Nonetheless, Senators endeavour to ensure that counties shall not be disadvantaged in resource allocation.

Bad governance is the bane of effective and efficient allocation of resources. The historical marginalization of counties in Northern Kenya was largely as a result of absence of sound policies and poor governance. It was not about lack of resource but the monumental misapplication and misappropriation of the resources by policy makers and implementers. 

I do appreciate that our county governments are only two years into their existence and have teething problems. Nonetheless, this should not be an excuse for them to tolerate corruption and mismanagement in its ranks.

County assemblies have a key role in interrogating the policies and execution of the executive in all spheres. I have no doubt that it will not be lost on each and every MCA in Kenya that the hopes and aspirations of the residents of their respective counties on the prudent management of their resources are pinned on them. 

Honourable members of county assemblies cannot, and should not, shy away from their responsibilities of holding the executive to account. They owe it to their electorates that they must say no to pilferage, wastage and misappropriation of public funds. 

National revenue allocated to counties is money intended for the economic development and welfare of the people of respective counties. It must be guarded jealously, on behalf of the poor, weak and ordinary residents who have entrusted county leaders to do so. 

There is a growing perception that certain members of county assemblies have pursued their personal interests at the expense of their electorates, and consequently abdicated their mandate of oversight of the Executive. 

The Senate is in the process of enforcing the independence of the county assemblies, both financially and functionally, so that this important institution is not handicapped in executing their mandate, and that it does not operate at the whims of the Executive. 

MCAs must stand up to be counted for the sake of the people, and our future as Kenya. I am aware that MCAs are concerned about budget ceilings by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) and its implications on your funding. My committee of Finance, Commerce and Budget in the senate is already in discussions with CRA in this regard and I am certain that the limits, which affect both arms of government, will be determined in consultations with county assemblies.

In the past two years, Mandera County, for instance, should have received over KES 12 billion from the national revenue allocation. With a maximum recurrent expenditure limit of 40% set in the revised Public Financial management Act, the Executive should have spent well over KES 7 billion on development projects to date. 

Has the Mandera County Assembly conducted an examination of the expenditures of the Executive thus far? 

Counties must review their County Integrated Development Plan to make them more relevant so they address development priorities, agreed upon by all leaders. 

Moreover, if assemblies play their oversight role as provided for in the constitution, all these situations will not come to pass. Plans by the Senate to establish County Development Boards to facilitate appropriate consultations by leaders on priorities for development has been injuncted by the court and is still under consideration.

Article 185 of our Constitution empowers county assemblies to review and approve all plans and policies of the county executive for the management and exploitation of the respective county’s resources, and the development and management of its infrastructure and institutions. 

The same article also gives assemblies powers to enact laws for the effective performance of the functions, and exercise of powers of the county government, in addition to oversight over the county executive committee and any other executive organs. 

The Constitution also empowers the August Houses to approve all budgetary allocations. Several parts of the Constitution, and various pieces of statutes, give counties powers to approve or reject the executive’s policies, programmes, expenditures and appointments in order to enhance accountability, and provide the necessary checks and balances. 

The success or failure of a devolved government is solidly anchored on the effectiveness of its county assembly, which as I stated before have enormous powers to set the pace. The buck stops with the MCAs!

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