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October 24, 2018

MCAs’ personal kitty bad idea that will entrench confusion

Mombasa county MCA's at the assembly buildings on September 6,2017.Phjoto / JOHN CHESOLI
Mombasa county MCA's at the assembly buildings on September 6,2017.Phjoto / JOHN CHESOLI

A Bill dated March 7 has been introduced in the Senate seeking to establish a fund for development to be solely administered by MCAs, modelled on the Constituency Development Fund of 2004 and as reviewed in 2013.

It should be recalled the High Court declared the CDF Act unconstitutional, only for the MPs to make changes to the law to align the fund with the Constitution.

While the Bill has been muted and drafted by senators for enactment, the discussions were initiated and have been going on since 2013. Some counties had even gone ahead and enacted by-laws for the establishment of such funds as was the case in Nairobi under Governor Evans Kidero.

The MCAs have always wanted to be treated as MPs, including being referred to as Honourables. They have been competing with the governors for control of resources at the counties. On some occasions, these battles have degenerated into outright blackmail, where the assembly would veto the governor’s budget or motion unless their demands were met. The MCAs have behaved and acted in copycat fashion to their big siblings, the MPs.

On the other side of the divide, the senators have had their fair share of supremacy wars with the governors. Many first-time senators in 2013 were MPs in the previous Parliament.

They had erroneously thought the Senate was a more glamorous House than the National Assembly or being a governor. They soon found out the governors wielded more clout and resonated better with the masses. Their roles were also reduced by the National Assembly to merely oversight of already budgeted funds to the counties.

Senate was derisively named the club of retired politicians, and became subservient to the National Assembly in stature and pecking order. This made many senators regret their decision to seek these positions and they began to envy the governors.

Consequently, they undertook their oversight roles in auditing the counties with a mixture of vendetta and jealousy. Many a time, the Public Accounts and Investment Committee of the Senate conducted their business on members’ personal accounts instead of facts presented by the Auditor General. It became more a witch-hunt than public-interest project.

In the circumstances, many sitting senators succumbed to the allure of the trappings of the Office of the Governor. They thus began to plot how to bring down their home governors with a view of having their protégés take over or themselves succeeding them altogether. Some such as Mohamed Kuti of Isiolo, Anyang’ Nyong’o of Kisumu and Kiraitu Murungi of Meru succeeded, while others like Boni Khalwale of Kakamega and Hassan Omar of Mombasa failed.

Yet others such as James Orengo of Siaya could not muster the courage to let go the Senate seat and seek the governor’s flag. It is this confluence of interests of the senators and the MCAs that has given impetus to the push for this Bill.

It will establish an independent fund to finance the development projects of the MCAs’ preference. Working in tandem with these are the MPs opposed to the arrival of the governors in their political backyards. The governors have taken away attention of the public from them, which was previously their preserve.

The MPs have silently but always wanted a way to deflate what they call the bloated ego of the governors, who move about as the purveyors of development goodies. They have also not had a cozy retionship with the senators, always portraying the senators as junior to them and an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers.

There have been threats to scrap the Senate. The MPs have regularly argued the Senate does not require the funds demanded to support the oversight role. They will, therefore, support this move more on the basis of deflating the influence of both the senators and the governors than on merit. Only the President can therefore stop the Bill.

The push for the MCAs’ development fund runs against the grain of the concept of the separation of powers. It is expected at any level of governance, functions and responsibilities should be disaggregated and clearly distinguishable.

The organs charged with responsibility to perform these functions should have the requisite powers. The institutions should be separate and distinct to avoid duplication and redundancy. At the national level, the organs are the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.

Parliament synthesises the peoples’ wishes and makes laws. The Executive collates the citizens’ needs and addresses them through development upon approval by the Legislature.

At the county level, only the Legislature and the Executive are devolved. They are supposed to function and operate as the similar organs at the national level. The county executive as led by the governor is expected to prepare and present the development agenda to the county assembly for approval. Once approved, it is expected the plan will be implemented without bias and every resident will benefit.

The assembly is expected to satisfy itself that the development budget has been implemented as prior approved through regular audits. They conduct these audits through county public accounts and investment committee hearings. The role of executing development is thus the preserve of the executive lead by the governor, while the Legislature carries the oversight mandate.

However, Kenya has had a history of skewed development programme implementation. The regions that were perceived to be hostile to the regime in power were denied social services. The budgeting process was not open and was subject to manipulation by the Treasury mandarins. The bureaucrats would be working at the behest of powerful political forces to reward supporters heftily. Sometimes these regions would be allocated funds for unnecessary projects, even as they starved some regions of necessary development and social support funds.

It is this background that led to the establishment of the CDF as proposed by Eng Muriuki Karue to ensure at least every constituency benefited from the national coffers. This was a necessary response to a developmental challenge within the then existing political environment.

It was illogical in terms of governance systems as well as unconstitutional in terms of good legal practice. Inconsistencies were quickly identified and soon the malpractices associated with unfettered control of resources surfaced.

The MPs being patrons of the fund begun to practice nepotism in their small conclaves of constituencies and procurement rules were flagrantly flouted in tenders.

When the new Constitution took full effect, attempts were made to scrap the CDF kity without much success. The confusion that greeted the counties worsened the situation and the MPs managed to retain the fund with minimal revision.

The governors, as the new sheriffs in town, appeared to have devolved the corruption, inefficiencies and ineptitudes of the national government in the previous constitutional regime.

The counties became the bastions of inequitable development programmes and old-style provincial administration mentality. The MCAs — now better remunerated — appeared to respond to the daily needs of their ward members more promptly than the county executive.

They thus endeared themselves to the people and their supporters wished for more resources.

It is these teething problems of devolution that the MCAs are taking advantage of to push for the ward development fund. They are also leveraging on their closeness to the people, together with the resentment senators and MPs have for the governors to succeed.

However, it is feared the establishment of this fund will entrench the devolution confusion, and Kenya is better off with the impending constitutional review, courtesy of the handshake.

 

 The writer is a political and public policy analyst

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