Why devolution has failed to take Kenyans to political Canaan

Our problems stem from our system of government, and not per se the incapacities of the leaders. To save our country, we must push for a reduction of government

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By Alfred Mosoti

On August 2010, Kenyans were a very happy and optimistic lot, having finally promulgated a new constitution they believed offered a new dawn
It will be remembered they had a similar joy when the newly elected NARC regime took over power from Moi’s government in early 2003. Then Kenyans sang the contemptuous illusionary chorus yote yawezekana bila Moi- literally, everything is possible without Moi in power!

It was a great milestone in Kenyan political history, replete with countless episodes of public disillusionment, occasioned by poor governance and abuse of power by her leaders – believed to have been greatly facilitated by an ‘’out-dated’’ colonial legal system.

However, slightly over four years after its earnest implementation starting early 2013, empirical evidence and experience shows that much of it was just a hoax. The hyped document, instead of being the proverbial magic ring to bring drastic socio-economic and political revolution, has turned out to be a heavy yoke for citizens, and for the a number of reasons.

First, it created an expanded ‘club of eaters’ – plunderers of public resources under the pretext of ensuring proportionate civic representation, and bringing government services closer to the people. The doctrine of devolution literally resulted into decentralisation of corruption!!

It shouldn’t be forgotten how counties demanded more, often lucrative, responsibility on health and agriculture, never mind that the amounts allowed to them until then had been lost in embezzlement and mismanagement. Only recently Kenyans were treated to the longest ever doctors’ strike in the country’s history while counties said that they were broke. Most ironical is how the Council of Governors, through its chair Peter Munya deflected liability back to the Central government, blaming it for transferring such a crucial and sensitive docket (Health) to devolved governments!!

Second, as a National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) report on ethnic balancing of staff in public universities revealed, counties have failed to achieve many of their key objectives, including the protection of minorities and the marginalised. The largest ethnic groups in every county continue to dominate jobs and businesses as outsider communities are shunned.

Third, most of the counties remain far from economic viability. With a lot of money going to recurrent expenditure, most counties are almost always dangling on the brink of bankruptcy. A 2013 study conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the UK-based Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority, raised a red flag on Kenya’s expenditure patterns, rating her lawmakers among the highest paid globally.

According the research, recurrent expenditure consumes close to 56% of the GDP, with salaries and benefits paid to the top public servants accounting for one third of it. It doesn’t help that the provincial administration continues to operate in tandem with devolved structures. This introduces a duplication of roles, creates conflict and robs taxpayers off value for money spent in their sustenance. Experts defend the system on the basis that it borrows from the best practices available. However, effort must be concentrated towards finding a model of devolution that appreciates our financial state. A copy-paste of federalism was a recipe for failure.

Truth be told, the new law was a wrong diagnosis of Wanjiku’s disease. Our society is better managed under a legal system with a lean number of commissions, civic and administrative units. Only then can we reduce spending and arrest corruption. As Gabriel Dolan writes in an article Self Sacrifice is Rarely found in Public Service, good governance is less about bureaucracy and more about a change in attitude. Our politics is about self-aggrandizement; politicians hardly question themselves on how they will be of service to their country. Most importantly though, our problems stem from our system of government, not really the incapacities of the leaders. To save our country, we must push for a reduction of government.

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