Saturday, April 13, 2013

Arming the watchdog: Do MCAs have the capacity to perform?

Devolved government is here with us and it is an exciting time. It is fulfilling to see the units take shape. Of interest is that the 47 units of government not only have an executive to implement the local policies but also have a local elected county assembly. The County Assemblies are the key institutions in the county that will represent, legislate and offer oversight in the running of the county. The Members of the County Assembly (MCA) are elected from each ward and a few more will be nominated to ensure that there is equitable representation of all people. This includes women, youth, persons with disability and marginalized communities in the county. The MCA’s thus have first and foremost responsibility to ensure that the voice and preference of their constituents is present at the table of decisions. They secondly have a law and policy making responsibility. The laws and policies that they make is what makes the work of the county government possible. It provides the desired end while making provisions of how to get there. Thirdly they have an oversight role in which they hold the power to approve, check and follow on every matter being conducted in the county. Their is to check the powers of the governor.

This therefore means that MCA’s have a greater mandate than was wielded by their predecessors the councilors who operated in the local authorities. They have to take this mandate with the weight it deserves. But standing in their way is their capacity to handle this mandate. How well do they understand their legislative and oversight role? What qualifications do they bring to the table of decisions especially where complex matters of development are concerned? There is also the concern of their remuneration against the work we expect them to play. 

In a training I was conducting for the MCAs of Nakuru County it has emerged that they had very different expectations in as far as their roles are concerned. Of concern is that some have not internalized the principle of separation of powers as entrenched in the constitution. That they will not be able to engage in direct service delivery is already a matter worrying to many. And one would understand their dilemma. In a country with nascent political party ideologies and thus no binding party policies expressed in manifestos, every person seeking election goes out promising different things. Some of the promises though exciting to the masses are untenable. So once one is elected, they realize that they have to honour their promises but cannot do so directly. There are collective plans and budgets to be made and this means tradeoffs so as to work within the resource purse available. Their wit in making the budget thus will be of essence to ensure that they can accommodate other proposals while ensuring that theirs are equally addressed.

But how equipped are the MCAs to carry out this mandates. Do they have the expertise or at least access to expertise to ensure their effectiveness. How well are the County Assembly Service Boards resourced to ensure that the MCAs have offices to operate from? In moving forward it emerges that there is a lot that needs to be done. In the short term there is need for continuous capacity development especially after the formation of committees. Some of those committees will have to be merged in some counties given the number of MCAs. The office of the speakers may also need sufficient support to ensure it has the technical support necessary for effective performance. In the long term, there may be need to review the educational and professional qualifications for election of MCAs as well as the remuneration of this position so as to attract high caliber professionals. 

Friday, 12 April, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Refocusing the Devolution Debate

I feel the debate of why we devolved government is dwelling on non essentials - flags, names (Hon or HE), houses, cars, offices and personal assistants (drivers etc) for ourr good governors. Multiply this with 47 and add their deputies, speakers and other senior officials and we already cannot afford before we even start it. Our (my) reasons for supporting devolution was to ensure better representation and improved service delivery. Thus the question should be: Is our voice better represented and are we setting the systems that will assure better service delivery. Anything else is a side show and will soon degenerate to back passing. The loosers in all this will be you and I who have little say in the fight for power. 

The constitution of Kenya provides for two levels of government with functions to be delivered to every citizen. In their wisdom the members of Parliament passed the National Government Coordination Act on 16 January 2013. This is in live with Schedule 6 Section 17 that requires that the Provincial Administration be restructured to be in accordance with the county system. It legitimizes the role of County Commissioners, their deputies, chiefs and assistant chiefs in each county. Their role is to coordinate the delivery of national government services as provided for in schedule 4. Thus the national government is represented by the County Commissioner (appointed) at the county level and the County Government by the Governor (elected). The question is: Do we need both? and is there value added in having the County Commissioners? Let us remember that at least 85 per cent of our expenditure is with the National Government and 15 per cent is with the County Government. I do not see the challenge of who should report to the other (Governor or County Commissioner).  

My problem is how to ensure that:-

1. every service that kenyans are entitled too is delivered effectively and efficiently while ensuring value for resources spent
2. both county government (governor) and national government (county commissioners) are accountable for the application of public resources
3. that citizens are assured of a recourse measure should either level of government fail in its role

While I hold in high esteem the governors we elected, it is not lost to me that they may not have the best interests of the county. Thus they need to be shielded from taking us down the drain in the pursuit of their personal interests. Governors can fly the national flag, live in the best houses and drive the latest cars all at state expense but that will be of little value if the livelihoods of the people in Kenya remains the deplorable.

Our constitution provides two measures - one is the Legislatures at both levels i.e. National Assembly, Senate and County Assemblies. Second is the Commissions and Independent Offices. This two have a key role in protecting the interests of the citizens. It is my opinion that both the governor and national officials working within each county should account to the above bodies. That way we remove this competition of who is more powerful than the other. It also provides for citizen participation including petitioning and demonstrating where their needs have not been met. 

As we move forward, lets keep this in perspective: Are we better represented and are we receiving improved services? This is what we will keep drumming until it gets done. 

Some thoughts on future of Universities and Scholarship

It was my pleasure to give input on this topic at the just concluded DAAD Young Scholars in Africa Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya. As one...