I recently had what I want to believe was an interesting conversation with somebody, an important constituent from one of the counties – actually, a teacher. I describe the teacher as important because of their influence; either to persuade and/or dissuade others. Teachers are opinion leaders.
My teacher-friend told me how she is impressed with her area Member of Parliament. According to her, unlike the Woman Representative, the MP has worked so hard to serve wananchi through various “development” projects. By virtue of her profession, it did not escape her attention that the MP gives cash rewards of up to Sh1 million to best performing schools. I asked whether the MP uses his own money and, surprisingly, the teacher answered in the affirmative.
In her own words, “the Woman Representative has not made any effort to contribute to “development” in the area, or help locals secure employment in the companies within the county or in government.” I was at pains to explain how the MP has a kitty in the name of the Constituency Development Fund, while the Woman Representative had none.
By all means, a teacher is a well informed person, and her assessment of her political representative baffled me. Lack of awareness on such critical matters debilitates us from playing our civic duties effectively. I couldn’t help but mull over the predicament of the Woman Representative, and how people will judge her performance not on the basis of her core work, but duties that squarely fall under other arms of government.
It is unfortunate that our political system is based on a culture where people expect to see material things – cash handouts, physical structures, etc. Granted, we cannot dismiss this considering there are currently funds set aside (such as the CDF in the case of MPs) for such projects. It is, however, not the core work of these representatives.
Article 95 (1-3) of the Constitution is clear on the role of the National Assembly: to represent the people of the constituencies and special interests in the National Assembly; deliberate and resolve issues of concern to the people; and enact legislation and provide oversight. An MP actually does not need money to satisfy these roles. It is possible to have an MP who performs dismally on the functions outlined above and excellently in the “development” front. It is also likely that those development roles may hamper effective performance of the core duties.
Unlike MPs, women representatives have not had the leeway to directly influence development agenda as they had no specific kitty, a matter that has largely affected their visibility in the development front. It is this obscurity that propelled them to lobby for a fund to bolster their presence. In response to this, the National Treasury set up an Affirmative Action Social Development Fund (AASDF) with an initial allocation of Sh2 billion.
According to the Public Finance Management (Affirmative Action Social Development Fund) Regulations, 2015, the purpose of the AASDF is to complement CDF. The Fund will support, inter alia, enhancement of access to financial facilities for women through a revolving fund; socio-cultural development and nurturing of talent for the youth; enhancement of access to services for survivors of gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, and early, child and forced marriages; and support of affirmative action groups (out of school youth, orphans, children in child-headed homesteads and special needs children). The Fund will, in a way, “elevate” women representatives to the same platform as MPs to compete for the attention of the public.
Women representatives are, however, yet to enjoy the fruits of the Fund. The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA) last year petitioned the High Court to declare the AASDF Act 2015 unconstitutional. TISA asked the Court to bar the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary from releasing monies to any institution created under the Fund pending the hearing and determination of the application for judicial review. Critics of AASDF have argued that just like CDF, the Fund goes against the spirit of the Constitution. In particular, the Fund is criticised for failing to respect the principle of separation of powers. The High Court granted TISA’s prayers on December 14, 2015 although it reversed the orders on January 21, 2016; the matter is yet to be concluded.
In the event the women representatives will eventually have their way, they will still require time to put structures in place, and undertake the necessary processes such as procurement, before actual implementation commences. They will therefore not have done much before 2017. Their constituents, just like my teacher, will put them to task to identify development projects they have undertaken.
But what we really do need to ask is whether any of these representatives really need to have a kitty for their impact to be felt.
Writer is a communications practitioner; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org