LUSAKA: As Senate agitates for more resources, counties must be accountable

Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka leaves the chambers after senators were sworn in on August 31 / JACK OWUOR
Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka leaves the chambers after senators were sworn in on August 31 / JACK OWUOR

Moments after accepting to be the Speaker of the Senate on August 31, 2017, I delivered my acceptance speech. In that inaugural address, I posed a critical question to the senators

What next for our Senate? How do we expand on the achievements of the first Senate?

Two parliamentary sessions later, the Senate has made strides to deliver on its mandate. Senators have rolled up their sleeves to work and achieve more; dulling the leaking faucets at the back of their minds induced by the rhetorical question that I asked close to one and a half years ago.

The cardinal role of the Senate as set out in Article 96 of the Constitution is to represent the counties and protect their interests and those of their governments. To this end, we consider and pass Bills concerning counties and determine allocation of national revenue to the county governments, while providing oversight over these revenues.

LEGISLATIVE PERFORMANCE

The second Session of the 12th

Parliament recorded 47 published Senate Bills. As at the end of the Session —

during which a total of 94 sittings were held — three of the bills had been passed and assented to, while 13 had been referred to the National Assembly for consideration. They are yet to be concluded. Another 28 bills are at various stages of consideration, while two are still undergoing concurrence.

It is through various legislative instruments (motions, petitions and statements), however, that senators dedicatedly discharged their role of representation. This was manifested through the significant number of Statements (131) requested earlier on in the Session.

A closer look at the Constitution may give credence to the affinity demonstrated — but quickly remedied

— by Senators, to representation over legislation.

Article 109 limits the legislative role of the Senate to “Bills concerning county governments”. It is, however, important to note that while the legislative mandate of the Senate is limited to this extent, the oversight and representative mandates are not.

Whereas commentators have claimed the Senate has in some instances overstepped its mandate, our position is clear: We are fully empowered under the Constitution to consider and deliberate any matter of public concern.

The Senate under the leadership of the 11th Parliament was steadfast in agitating for consistent annual increments in allocation of national revenue to the counties. From an allocation of Sh210 billion in the 2013-14 financial year, a 56 per cent increase was noted within five years with Sh327 billion being set aside for the 2017-18 financial year.

The current Senate has not faltered in the set precedent of ensuring increased budgetary allocation to the grassroots. The Division of Revenue Bill, 2018 set aside Sh372 billion for counties in the 2018-19 financial year.

OVERSIGHT AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS

The onus, as provided for by the Constitution, is on the Senate to ensure funds allocated and disbursed to the counties are prudently utilised to benefit the county-folk and not a few individuals.

In view of this, the Senate’s focus through its County Public Accounts and Investments Committee has been able to ensure

objective oversight.

It is based on a simple principle —

to whom much is given, much is required.

As the Senate agitates for increased resources for counties, it is the responsibility of each the governments to account for its expenditure. Quid pro quo of sorts ( something for something). That has been the resounding message from the Senate and it has finally struck a chord. A few governors who avoided appearing before the previous Senate­

have honoured invitations to this Senate.

The Inaugural

“Senate Mashinani”

sitting of the Senate held in

September last year in Uasin Gishu was a landmark outreach initiative that led to outstanding public participation and engagement. Through other fora, such as the annual devolution conferences and legislative summits, intergovernmental relations have improved. The success of these interactions has bolstered and continues to inspire the Senate.

Going forward, the Senate will be very intentional in initiating and strengthening collaborative linkages while deepening existing partnerships with national and county government departments and agencies, regional and international development partners as well as non-state actors.

During the session, the Senate, through its committees, has interacted with Kenyans from all walks of life. In a country acutely polarised along various axes such as ours, we have borne witness that we firmly believe and are keen to promote and protect devolution. The current administration has matched that belief with strong economic support and a solid road map in the name of the Big Four Agenda.

As the Senate sets out for its third Session, I reaffirm to the nation our unwavering support for the Big Four agenda, which has largely been driven by the Executive. Considering that three of the agenda items – universal healthcare, food security and affordable housing – are devolved functions or dependent on counties, the Senate will play a central role by fast-tracking devolution compliant legislation.

As a pro-devolution Senate, we are guided by the need to respond to key priorities of the counties as well as the many challenges they have to surmount. A thorn in the flesh for most County Governments has been the delayed disbursement of resources from the National Treasury that has hampered service delivery due to unmet obligations to suppliers and service providers. The Senate shall reinvigorate its energies to address this destabilising challenge.

This is a defining Session for the Senate and it shall live up to its billing.

Kenneth Lusaka is the Speaker of the Senate.