A Three Tier System of Government Won’t Strengthen Devolution

Posted by on 23rd May 2018

Categories:   Uncategorized

By Gitungo Wamere

(Guest Blog)

Kenyans have barely recovered from a long and gruelling election that threatened to tear the country apart and now some politicians are talking about changing the Constitution through a referendum. Yet, a referendum may end up pulling the country apart despite the handshake between bitter rivals, Mr. Kenyatta and Odinga which has brought about a semblance of peace and cohesion.

Some of the changes that are being flown left, right and centre are meant to change Kenya’s system of governance. A number of the proposals are just fancy and may not necessarily solve Kenya’s governance structural problems.

Take for instance, a referendum to have a Parliamentary system with a powerful Prime Minister and a ceremonial President. This is a debate that has a potential to divide the country into two. Numbers are at the centre of politics and there is a flimsy possibility in Kenya that a person elected by a group of 300 people would legitimately govern Kenya.

The proposal of an executive Prime Minister has always been suffocated by communities that have many votes but less representatives in Parliament. To date, there is no evidence showing that leaders especially from the Gikuyu community are willing to take this lying down.

On the other hand, there is a fancier proposal that wants to pursue a three tier system of government in Kenya. This debate was re-introduced by Raila Odinga recently when addressing Governors in Kakamega at the devolution conference.

Let us interrogate the ‘three tier’ system. Firstly, in a three tier system a country will have a national government on top. A regional government at the centre and local governments at the bottom. The National government may mean the government in Nairobi, regional governments may take the shape of the former eight provinces and finally county governments as they are, may remain at the bottom as local governments.

On the regional governments, we need to pause and ask, do we need another tier of government in between the national and county governments? Why restructure devolution now? Will regional governments solve the current problem we have with devolution?

Furthermore, devolution has come with a huge financial price for Kenyans to pay. This could partly explain why the budget’s expands year-in-year out. County governments have become consumers of the budget with little or nothing to bring on the table.

There is immense potential in some of the counties to raise funds and support development in their counties but Governors have refused to think outside the box. Unfortunately so, counties are yet to put mechanisms that will help in having effective tax collection. The result is that Kenya has now 47 children who are living lavishly but they don’t want to meet some of their costs.

Well, if we were to introduce a three tier government would this problem be solved? Don’t forget that the regions that are being proposed will come with their numerous political positions that will demand from Kenyans, posh offices, cars, humongous salaries and the like. Interestingly, so many political positions in a small country like Kenya may only bring confusion rather than clarity in leadership in governance.

The voluminous political bureaucracy will only create another class of regional bourgeois but with little or no development to show to the poor. It would have always been better, if we had a strong central government that effectively distributes resources to the poor, but now that it failed us, the result was giving ourselves smaller governments in the name of counties – we just can’t create ourselves something bigger than the county. The two tier system can work for us, if we resolve to strengthen it.

The proposers of the three tier system are not always clear on what role will regional governments play. Their answer is always short and vague, the claim has been that regions will strengthen devolution and ensure devolution of resources from the National government.

If devolution was to be restructured, condensing it in order to make it lean would be the best proposal. For instance, having 47 counties is extravagant, 18 counties can serve Kenya better and this would save the country a lot of money. The best we can make out of the regional governments is by deciding to reduce the number of counties.

If introduced, the regional governments would be taking away the independence of county governments as we know it. Wouldn’t the regional government’s also be usurping the Senate’s role? In any case, we would rather keep the Senate and forget about the regional governments. Just because they have worked elsewhere it doesn’t mean they can be a panacea to our problems.

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