Thursday, April 1, 2010

PROPOSED DEVOLUTION FRAMEWORK: POLITICAL EXPEDIENCE OR ECONOMIC PRUDENCE?

Nearly 2 decades of efforts at constitutional review and there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. One of the fundamental provisions that the new constitution will have is one on Devolution. “Devolution has been advocated as a political response to the ills plaguing fragile and plural societies, such as conflicts, inequalities, rent seeking, economic stagnation, corruption and inefficient use of public resources. Besides, devolution can also be implemented as a reaction to external pressure from organized groups (or separatists)”, states a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs (2010).

It has emerged that as parliamentarians vote for the constitution today, devolution will be one of the main issues of contention that will make or break the constitution making process. But Why? Is it because the proposed structure of a national government and 47 county governments is inadequate? Or is it because it is associated with one side of the political divide? Is the current debate on devolution one that is driven by the need to be politically correct or by the need to be economically prudent? It is imperative to note that the one of the main arguments for an efficient system of devolution is that of ensuring that there is equitable (some have insisted on equal) sharing of national revenue and other resources. Difficult as this may be, it is certainly a quest that must be addressed. The other reason has to do with representation and proximity of government to the people. There thus seems to be an expectation among Kenyans that devolution, by ensuring better sharing of revenue, providing effective avenues for representation (participation at local levels) and bringing government closer to the people will solve the problems that threaten to cripple their lives. This may be far from the truth unless the following issues are put into consideration.

First, is the basic requirement that the unit of devolution and hence development be clearly stated. Currently we have albeit three such units namely, the local authority, constituency and district. Each of these units receives resources (human, technical and financial) to facilitate development at the grassroots. It has thus emerged that this has created competition, duplication and ultimate wastage of public resources with little if any impact. One would rightly observe that the cost of providing key public goods and services at the local level is in excess of double of what it would cost in well defined system. On this, I have a disturbing concern. The MP’s while aware of the conflict the CDF management structure of which they are the CEO’s in their respective constituencies have caused, are unwilling to let go. Infact, if the Kabete Consensus retreat is anything to go by, they (MPs) are on record as having agreed on the creation of 25 regions with the Constituency as the unit of devolution. And towards this they proposed that 10 % (up from current 2.5 %) of total annual ordinary revenue of government be allocated to the CDF kitty (under their management) and 20 % be allocated to the regions. Accordingly, county governments were to be done away with, effectively making the MP the lord at the constituency. This is against the principle of separation of powers. It also negates the demand by Kenyans for popular participation in development. On this I completely disagree with the members of parliament.

Secondly and closely related to the first, is the question of what constitutes national resources? Those proposing regional governments are on record as implying that the regional government will have greater autonomy and muscle than the county governments in revenue collection and utilization. Theirs seems to be a suggestion that the resources within their region will be theirs for keeps. This has the potential of causing greater resource conflict than the country has ever witnessed. Looking at Kenya today we have certain revenue points that we consider as key. They include the coastal beach, the national parks, mountains, agricultural zones just to mention but a few. Whereas, persons from a certain region that has a key resource may be advantaged should we pursue this proposal, this could change should the resource decline or global forces cause a decline in its utilization. Further should other regions that were initial disadvantaged discover key resources, then there is likely to be imbalance in revenue and this could lead to conflict resources. A case in point is Nigeria. When the federal constitution was established, sharing of resources between the regions and the federal government was based on the derivation principle that meant that 13 % of the revenue was left in the region of source. As Seberu (2001) quoted by IEA (2010) observes, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, all export duties of agricultural commodities and import and excise duties on tobacco and motor fuel were simply returned to the region of production or consumption. This tended to make the rich regions richer and to arouse invidious opposition and resentment from the less well endowed regions. This even got worse when oil was revenues became a significant part of the Nigerian economy. This shifted the focus from the agricultural regions to the oil rich regions. Today we are alive to the unending conflicts in rich oil regions especially on the Niger Delta. Oil accounts for 90 % of Nigeria’s revenue. So I ask, in the event that a key resource is discovered in the commonly considered marginalized areas such as Oil in North Eastern or other expensive gases in upper Rift valley, what will we do? The proponents of regionalism ought to carefully weigh these concerns.

Thirdly, devolution regardless of the shape it takes is likely to encounter problems unless underlying misunderstanding of the place of government and representation is concerned. It is unfortunate that positions in government have been interpreted and utilized as a means to personal end. This has affected the way public goods and services are applied for the common good. Further, it is painful to observe that anything public is a target for misuse, abuse and indulgence. Long after the colonialists who had taken our resources and were using them for their gain, excited the stage we are still “stealing” back what is rightly ours. Unless, we the citizens appreciate the devolved governments as our own and not belonging to some foreign entity, then it will be difficult to deliver the gains of a devolved government.

I thus appeal to our members of parliament to vote on this matter with the best of their clear conscience. They must each oppose any system that will duplicate and waste public resources of which we elected them to hold in our trust. They must defend the right of the citizen to meaningfully participate in the development meant to benefit him/her. They must put the money where the people they represent want. They must leave a legacy of men and women who stood for what was right in the midst of pressure to conform to the culture of the day. Men and women who choose rationality over expedience.

And to fellow citizens, our country will become what we individually and collectively choose to make it. It’s all in our hands.

In Service to God and My Country.

ARMS

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