Former US Congress Member Dick Armey once said; “Three groups spend other people’s money: children, thieves, and politicians. All three need supervision.” This statement has a resounding truth on today’s politics in Kenya as we mark one year of devolved institutions.
In the last couple of months, we have been treated to theatrics and deception from politicians as blame-game intensified on who is to blame for the teething problems facing devolution. There is even those who say that there is a plan to kill Devolution which Kenyans said they really want at the 2010 Constitution Referendum.
With all the noise, Kenyans have in the process failed to engage in constructive dialogue on what this elephant called Devolution is all about and why it is facing so many challenges. We have failed to interrogate the on-goings and instead we have been blinded by the power-play between the various political institutions.
Debate has centered on Governors vs Senators, Senators vs National Assembly Members, Governors vs the Executive, MCAs vs Governors and so on. We have been treated to the theatrics of who should be flying the flag or using what title. Meanwhile, we have had little or no debate on resources at the disposal of these politicians.
May be the only debate on resources has been the revelation that County Assemblies have spent one billion shillings in the first half of the 2013/2014 financial year on sitting allowances alone.
Already, the Controller of Budget has revealed that, between July and December 2013, Counties spent Sh41.0 billion – Sh.36.3 billion (88.4 per cent) on recurrent and Sh.4.8 billion (11.6 per cent) on development.
During this period the total revenue available to Counties was Sh79.0B (Sh66.5B from national & Sh9B from local sources) . In the first half of 2013/14 FY, Counties cumulatively collected Sh9B – 13.2 per cent of the annual target of Sh67.8 billion.
In short, Counties are spending so much more that they are able to collect as Revenue. And yet in the period between July and December 2013, counties spent Sh2.8B on domestic and foreign travels (32.3 per cent of the allocated funds).
According to the Division of Revenue Bill 2014, the National Government plans to raise allocation to County Governments to 43 per cent (from Sh190B to Sh226B) in the 2014/2015 financial year. This is way above the minimum 15 per cent stipulated by the Constitution but we must ask ourselves whether we want the spending above to continue.
We must therefore engage in an honest debate on whether we want to continue spending on political institutions and individuals at the expense of public service. It is not acceptable for the country to continue spending money on politics and politicians while the common mwananchi cannot access services as needed.
Politicians must be pushed to accept enactment of a law that caps the spending on recurrent expenditure at the county and national levels to one-third of the revenue. Development as a way of improving service delivery to the public should be a priority and should receive higher funding.
Since the main goal of Devolution was to give people at the grassroots more participation in governance and distribution of resources, it is becoming clear that we are over-represented. And we this, I fully support the reduction of the number of people who are representing us especially in the National Assembly and the Senate.
County Assemblies should be adequate in handling devolution matters alongside the Governors and there is therefore no need of another representative of the County spending public money in Nairobi. We must thus decide to do away with the Senate and have its roles taken up by the National Assembly.
The argument that the Senate is set up to protect the interests of the Counties is a mirage used to satisfy some power-hungry individuals. That said, we also need to reduce the number of members of the National Assembly. We have seen a minimum number of MPs transact Parliamentary business while the rest are idling somewhere in the country.
The Chamber is barely a third full during any given sitting of the National Assembly even during important debates pointing to the need for less representation or we have idlers in the name of MPs. Even if we have to go for a referendum, this is something that we must change in this country.
Devolution will only be a success when Kenyans make the deliberate decision to separate it from power-play and demand that leaders focus on provision of services. Kenyan leaders must realise that Devolution was not crafted for them to consolidate power but to help them in equitable distribution of resources.