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MORE TIERS, MORE TEARS? ODINGA’S PROPOSAL TO RESTRUCTURE GOVERNMENT

President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga shaking hands – Counting the cost and counting their fingers?

It’s been asked many times before of Raila Odinga: is he a genuine champion of democratic reform seeking to correct failings in Kenya’s governmental and democratic systems against a background of a series of flawed elections? Or, is Odinga trying to change the rules until he wins following yet another defeat at the ballot box, a defeat that this time (in 2017) could mark the end of the 74 year-old opposition leader’s political career?

Raila Odinga has proposed a restructuring of the government to a three-tier system of governance that will see the country divided into 14 major regional blocs, comprising several districts.

Speaking during the fifth devolution conference in Kakamega County, Odinga said that the proposed system had actually been factored in the draft constitution of 2005 drawn up by The Constitution Review Commission, known as the ‘Bomas draft’.

Odinga’s proposal is that the national government and the 47 counties would still be retained under but the three-tier system will see the counties grouped into14 major regional or provincial governments, akin to the old districts. This restructuring, Odinga says, would give room for proper governance.

Odinga argued that the current system does not factor in the economic viability of the counties saying it has even locked out investors from investing in the regions. He further cited counties inefficiencies to even finance their programmes.

“The Bomas Draft Constitution divided Kenya into 14 regions, each made up of several districts. The intention was to create units with the size and population that made them economically viable,” Odinga said.

The Final Report of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission’ (Bomas) proposed that:

  1. The provision of a four tier devolution structure based on the province, district, location, village;
  2. Nairobi as the capital [to] be governed in accordance with legislation establishing units of devolution;
  3. Other municipalities [to] be governed in accordance with legislation establishing units of devolution;
  4. [To] Entrench the structure of devolution.

GOOD IDEA? BUT AT WHAT COST?

Even the Review Commission, however, noted that devolution may not unalloyed good and it listed some of its concerns.

‘Devolution may not necessarily translate into greater democracy’, the Report ran, ‘because in a number of instances, it may serve only to put power into the hands of a local autocracy’.

‘Similarly’, the Report warned, ‘devolution may undermine national unity and inflate ethnic, religious and cultural

Are we now counting the cost of devolution?

diversities’.

And, the Report continued, ‘poorly designed devolution units may mean expensive duplication of ineffective government; over-bureaucratising the decision-making process as well as weakening the process of accountability’.

BETTER GOVERNANCE OR PERSONAL INTERESTS?

Critics have cited mischief in Odinga’s proposal to restructure county governments especially since the latest development comes in the wake of the infamous “handshake” between him and President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Deputy President William Ruto has in particular opposed Odinga’s proposal saying the former Prime Minister is just out to create power for a few people and that the issues facing the counties cannot be handled by creating yet another layer of government.

“If there is going to be a suggestion on arranging or rearranging of devolution, it cannot be creating another layer of government. It will be taking counties to the walls,” he said.

THE TAXING COST OF DEVOLUTION

When the country ushered in the new constitution in 2010 consequently giving room to the devolved system of governance, Wananchi were hopeful that devolution would bring about the much desired leadership. Unfortunately, five years later, many of the electorate are just disillusioned. The devolved governments appear to have just opened up more room for politicians to get power and loot more with nothing much to show when it comes to development.

Devolution also further bloated the public wage bill, which the government has been struggling to tame down. Some have questioned if the high cost of running the devolved system of governance is really worth the trouble. Financial experts have argued that the high cost of running devolution poses a threat to the country’s economic growth.

A special audit report by the Auditor general in 2017 on the economic impact of the new constitution revealed that it costs the country 115 times more to maintain political leaders under devolution compared to the old more centralised system.

Excessively high public wages increase recurrent expenditure and reduce the amount government can spend on development and also trigger unsustainable borrowing.

IMF CUTS KENYA’S CREDIT

The government is already on the spot with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over heavy borrowing which reached an all-time high in February.

Early this year the IMF withdrew the National Treasury’s access to a Sh150 billion standby credit facility, downgrading the country’s credit rating.

By withdrawing the facility the IMF was sending a message to international investors that the Kenyan government needs to cut the budget deficit (spending) and increase tax revenue (income).

SH1 TRILLION PUBLIC DEBT

In February the Treasury tabled a report in Parliament revealing that Kenya’s public debt will reach record levels of Sh1 trillion in the financial year July 2018 to July 2019. The report shows that public debt is ballooning, up from Sh435.7 billion two years ago, to Sh658.23 in the current financial year and upwards to an estimated Sh1 trillion in the forthcoming year.

To set those figures in perspective, the Treasury will now spend some Sh54 in Every S100 it raises in taxes just to service the public debt.

MISPLACED PRIORITIES

Counties have been more efficient in one area however – exceeding expenditure on allowances and meetings and travel more than they are delivering on development.

What the counties need is not another crop of power hunger politicians on the payroll, what they need is a functional leadership and productivity from the existing leaders.

With the current culture of “leadership” and the politics of “lootocracy”, adding another level of government will only serve to add another layer of bureaucracy and another unservicable duplication of roles.

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