Devolution Conferences are starting to sound much like the annual Davos Conferences where the rich and powerful come together and spend millions discussing the fate of the millions who are poor yet things remain the same for this majority, if not worse.
Someone suggested these World Economic Forum (WEF) conferences will achieve nothing for the majority poor until they have a key role in these forums. It is therefore not surprising that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased considerably despite these annual meetings to prevent the same.
The 5th Annual Devolution Conference held in Kakamega came to an end but there’s little to differentiate this conference from the previous ones, except for the fact that the opposition leader Raila Odinga gave a Keynote speech at the invitation of the government.
These conferences are supposed to be about stock-taking; where are we going wrong? Which holes can we plug? Instead what we see is great speeches year after year with nothing tangible. We only circle around the real issues like devolved corruption and warning faceless and nameless individuals of dire repercussions when we know and can arrest them.
It’s not like the corruption happens through black magic! The Auditor General Reports doesn’t just name random counties but affected dockets and the people running them. Parliamentarians call them for questioning and retreat to write reports that are inconsequential. It appears talking about corruption is a pastime activity for politicians.
The circa 6000 delegates who attended the Devolution Conference in Kakamega were mainly the ‘who is who’ in the political and government circles. The real people that made devolution necessary weren’t there. The mama mbogas, hawkers and boda boda riders among other Kenyans in the informal sector who expected devolution to change their lives were not part of the meeting. Just like Davos, the people living in posh areas met to discuss the plight of those in slums without a representative from them.
So you have governors giving themselves a report card of how hard they have worked or how the National government is undermining devolution and Senators antagonizing them; not on the basis of their performance but on whether they respond to Senate summons. To complete the picture we have MCAs who need motivation to attend these conferences that discuss county matters. In fact majority threatened to sabotage the conference if there were signs the bill by Senator Irungu Kang’ata giving them money was not getting support. Quite pathetic!
Here’s our quick observation on how to improve future devolution conferences: firstly, let it be about the people-real people. Let every county invite an agreed upon number of locals in different sectors to give their opinion on what they think ails devolution and their proposed countermeasure.
Secondly, let’s stop with the worthless threats. Devolved corruption will end the day we take the Auditor General’s reports seriously. At these conferences we should name and shame counties that have abetted corruption and get the governor to explain the steps he’s taking to recover this monies.
Thirdly, the National government should allocate funds in good time to avoid what might look like sabotage. MPs in the National Cohesion and Equal Opportunity Committee have expressed their worry over poor counties losing out on the equalization funds as a result of procurement delays by Treasury. If relevant ministries and institutions are getting their money in good time or at least in a way that allows them to carry out their activities with minimal challenges why not counties?
While the President’s promise to give 50billion performance based grant is commendable; this should be done with caution seeing as the problem may not necessarily be lack of funds but late disbursement coupled with graft. What the counties need more than anything therefore is how to prevent this financial hemorrhage and the political will to enforce Chapter Six when hiring at the county level.
Lastly but not least, the government and key institutions like the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) need to begin careful analysis of the wealth declaration by civil servants at the county level and begin comparing if the declarations match their lifestyles. Unless wealth declaration is another tool for subterfuge, it should be sufficient to winnow out the corrupt officials if the responsible institutions and people are doing their job.