Supremacy wars, impeachment motions and integrity issues slowing devolution potential

Thursday, September 12th, 2019 00:00 |
Members of the Nairobi County Assembly during chaotic proceedings that saw Speaker Beatrice Elachi impeached last year. Most county leaders are locked in internal supremacy fights. Photo/PD/FILE

Devolution was touted as transformative, with potential to revolutionise the country and so far, indicators are that the assessment was not misplaced.  

The recent grandstanding over the Revenue Division Bill which, for a while, derailed  disbursement of funds to counties and the standoff between Senate and the National Assembly over the amount due to counties only served to emphasise the devolved units as the key plank to Kenya’s growth plans and projections.

Before devolution, centralised planning system was rigid and selective in delivery, fanning inequities and inevitably, lopsided development. Devolution democratised decision-making, resource allocation and utilisation.

This is the essence of having a county oversight arm--—the County Assemblies—and facilitative institutions like the office of Speaker.  

The template may not be absolutely clear to each of them, but MCAs have a constitutional mandate and broad infrastructural outlay to oversight the Executive branch of the county comprising the governor, chief officers and county ministers. 

In fulfilling this role, it’s understood the MCAs would hold those exercising authority accountable so that public offices are used to serve, not personal or vested, but public interest. 

  Yes, it is hardly in public interest to look the other way when incompetence, impunity and dictatorship on the part of members of the Executive threaten the goals and ideals of devolution.

But it is also true that nobody should be constantly intimidated under the guise of oversight. The rule of law must always prevail.  

Budgetary proposals

Implementation of devolution goals has in some counties run into headwinds, where rule book is cynically ignored, catalysed by friction, backstabbing and inclinations towards self-gain.

Subsequent civil wars are exhibited through threats or actual impeachments. There have been cases of refusal to approve budgetary proposals.

Unfortunately, this is what obtains in several counties, leading to branding particularly county executives perhaps the most vulnerable public employees in Kenya.

The reluctance of professionals and qualified individuals to take up the jobs, particularly in Nairobi County makes stark statement of fact.     

At one point, the 11th Parliament sought to change the law  seeking to have MPs, and not Members of County Assembly, oversight governors when conflicts became too rampant.     

Feuding invariably pitting MCAs versus governors, Speakers and/or ministers undermine, even cripple, county operations.

Pulling in different directions due to conflicted interests or overzealous scrutiny subverts service delivery.

The protracted acrimony between Nairobi MCAs and Speaker Beatrice Elachi, the eruptions and violence within Homa Bay County Assembly as MCAs locked horns with the Speaker, leading to de-whippings of some, are among the worst case scenarios.  

There are incidents of MCAs blocking budgets and thus precipitating chaos. A case in point being that of Taita Taveta, where a standoff between the governor and MCAs has defied every arbitration effort, with the former standing his ground over what he avers is warped, irrational budgetary allocation demands by ward representatives.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho is the latest to have ago at the elusive reconciliation.   

In Siaya an executive member was recently unceremoniously ousted amid hue and cry.  Indeed, there are ugly convulsions all over with sacking of executives needlessly rampant. 

Smooth administration in several other counties are being rocked by partisanship as MCAs root for different politicians with an eye to governor position, and where circumstances of the latter appear to them to be precarious or with an eye to 2022 General Election and the political recalibrations that go with it. 

Leaders in dysfunctional counties are derailing devolution both in letter and spirit and must reset their objectives and seek to have clearer vision of what their oversight role entails.

Beatrice Elachi.

Flamboyant rhetoric must not drown truth or be allowed  to throw spanner into the works.   

The impetuous and often scorched earth policy approach, including drawing guns inspired by personal interests inside the chambers must be tamed. Both elected and appointed county leaders must cut out vile toxicity and engage maturely within the law. 

The principles of discipline and transparency must underpin public service and conduct.

MCAs who demand quid pro quo in its numerous and varied complexions—trips, outings, allowances in dealings with County executives—are doing devolution great disservice.   

However, governors, speakers and county executives grappling with accusations of gross violation of the Constitution, abuse of office and particularly breach of Public Finance Management Act and the  Public Procurement and Disposal Act must also be aware of their vulnerability. Truth is, not every apprehension expressed by MCAs is driven by ill-will. 

And which is why in the interest of checks and balances, there’s need for common ground between interests of County Assemblies Forum and the pending plea by speakers seeking Senate intervention to amend impeachment laws, which they say render them lame ducks in confrontation with ward reps.  

 However, we are aware that with impeachment often stalking them, some governors, county executives and speakers have yielded and resorted to dubious ways of appeasing MCAs by varying budgetary proposals, engaging in overindulgent expenditures at the expense of more prudent resource use. 

Cases exist where MCAs unable to prudently manage personal finances mainly mortgages and loans eye travel and excursion opportunities as avenues to stake claims to plethora of allowances without due regard to audit requirements and expenditure rationalisation.  

The demand for MCAs to have at least degree education was  abandoned as misplaced optimism.

It’s naive to  cherish the illusion that being educated would make the  county or  even country have better grounded ward representatives and MPs because happenings everywhere prove that education has little bearing on moral aptitude. 

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