MP Wilbur Ottichilo of Emuhaya constituency recently agreed to respond to questions posed by Mzalendo about his activities and his constituency. We welcome his willingness to engage and if you are a MP who is interested in doing the same, please email us – info-at-mzalendo-dot-com
What made you leave your role as Director General for Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), an agency of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and run for Parliament?
I wanted to offer new people centered leadership in my constituency that would focus on socio-economic development through participatory process that aims to empower the communities to formulate and implement their own development agenda. In brief, my goal was to empower people to take their own development destiny in their own hands.
In my career which spans over 30 years, I had held various senior managerial and leadership positions which exposed me to various leadership and development challenges and in the process I gained a lot of experience in modern and democratic approaches to leadership and management. I therefore aspired to use this vast experience to spearhead development agenda in my constituency which has remained poor since independence due to poor leadership which focused on politics of divide, impoverish and rule. My wish was to reverse this trend.
Being a Natural Resource and Environmental Scientist, I had throughout my career written numerous documents and reports where I made numerous policy recommendations for implementation by my government but none of them was implemented because there were no members of parliament who were interested in enacting policies and laws related to natural resource management and environment. I therefore decided that I go to parliament myself to articulate these issues- particularly those that concern science, technology and innovation. In my two years stint in parliament, I have played a key role in pushing for the enactment of National Land Use Policy and Biosafety Law. I have also fielded numerous questions concerning the conservation of our resources- particularly forests, lakes and wildlife. I was also involved in the preparation of Africa’s Position on Climate Change which was presented during the World Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December 2009. Currently I am working in collaboration with various civic societies to prepare a Climate Change Bill which I intend to table in parliament before the end of the year. I am also working on motions on space and Geo-Information Policies.
What Parliamentary Committee(s) have you served on since you became a Member of Parliament? How would you describe your experience on Committees so far?
I serve on two committees: Education, Science and Technology and Transport, Housing and Public Works. My experience on these committees is that they are very important in addressing national issues which cannot be dealt with exhaustively on the floor of the house. It is actually in these committees that the key oversight business of the parliament is transacted. My concern is that these committees lack experienced and seasoned technical support from parliament. Majority of the staff are less experienced and are also involved in numerous parliamentary duties. Also these committees spent more time investigating various issues that arise in their respective sectors. Less effort is devoted to policy issues! Lastly it is sad that the selection of members to different committees is not necessarily based on their expertise and experience in the respectively sectors and as such significant number of members do not take these committees very seriously!
Apart from these Committees, I am also a member of Pan-African Parliamentarian Association on Renewable Energy and Climate Change. The association focuses on issues of renewable energy and climate change in Africa. I also participate in numerous Ad-hoc meetings and committees that address specific parliamentary issues- particularly on education, science and technology and climate change.
Tell us a bit about your constituency. Emuhaya is the second largest single constituency in Western Kenya. Insecurity, poor infrastructure, and youth unemployment are major challenges for your constituents. How have you addressed these challenges as an MP?
Details concerning my constituency- Emuhaya are given on our website: www.emuhaya.co.ke. In brief my constituency which is also a district is in Vihiga County in Western part of Kenya. The constituency has an area of about 174 km2 and has a population of over 230,000, with an average density of about 1500 people (highest rural density in the country and world) per square kilometer. The average land parcel per household (average of six people) is 0.25ha.The main form of livelihood is through subsistence farming of maize and beans. The poverty level is quite high- about 65% and majority of the population are the youth- 76%.
The challenges my constituency faces are poor infrastructure, declining education standards, poor health care, unemployment and ever increasing population. To address these challenges, I initially embarked on the preparation of the first ever Strategic Plan (2008-2018) to be prepared in the constituency in a participatory manner. The Plan preparation process involved most of the key elected leaders, opinion leaders, public administration, sectoral technical officers and the religious leaders. The Plan was completed and officially launched at Bunyore Girls’ High School on 27th December 2008. For details regarding the Plan, see our website. Since the launching of the plan, I have devoted my time and energies to its implementation. For the achievements achieved in each sector to date, please check at the website. Overall I am very happy with the implementation of the plan and we expect to implement more than 70% of the plan by the end of my term- in 2012.
My strategy for bringing accelerated socio-economic development in my constituency has been to work directly with people. First I have had to change their mindset through capacity building that development is the responsibility of the government and that the M.P. is the mother and father of the constituency and is responsible for every development initiative. I had to encourage them to be responsible for their own development by empowering them to participate in the formulation and implementation of their own development activities. Our development motto is: We leave idle talking and take action to better our lives- “Khurule Mumang’ana khutsie mbikhole.”
You have engaged in various activities using ICT to foster development. Can you describe the constituency mapping initiative you undertook in your constituency? How successful was it? What challenges did you face in implementing it? Is there a link where the public can access the results of the initiative?
ICT is the engine of development in the 21st Century and information if important and crucial for rational planning and management of resources. Therefore one of my goals on election as M.P. was to create essential database on my constituency to form the base or foundation of development planning. I also set out to promote ICT awareness and training for our youth in our schools and for the ordinary people. I have been able to partly achieve this through my own personal initiative. Through my own-funding I have been able to establish two ICT training clinics for our youth in the constituency. We have also introduced computer training in a number of our secondary schools. I have been able to achieve this through a community based CBO known as Bunyore Community Development Organization (BUCODEO). For details please check on our website.
Being a geo-information and satellite technology specialist, I have also established a GIS database for the constituency based on most recent satellite imagery. We use this database for planning. Since the GIS technology is computer-based and most of my people cannot access to the same or have no training in the same, I have prepared simple and essential maps that are commonly referred to and availed then at the website for general use. I am also in the process of preparing an atlas with essential maps and statistics that will be available soon in hard copies.
Can you describe ways in which you directly engage with your citizens when not in Parliament e.g. visits to your constituency etc.?
The key complain and concern of my constituents when I was campaigning was that the previous M.Ps rarely visited the constituency once elected and when they did, it was a technical appearance where a few lucky people were given some money in form of a bribe to continue popularizing the M.P. and dealing ruthlessly with anybody who dared criticize the M.P. I therefore resolved that if elected I will spend all my time away from parliament in my constituency. This is what I am doing to date. Virtually all weekends and holidays I am in the constituency. While in the constituency I visit development projects, I visit schools and talk to students, I attend major social functions including funerals, I hold meetings with various key stakeholders and spare time for people to meet me in my local office to greet me and discuss with me on various personal or community issues.
If Emuhaya constituents have complaints or reports about the use of CDF funds, where’s the best place to direct them?
CDF funds are very crucial for the development of our constituency. These are funds that are availed to us by government to initiate and implement community based projects and activities. To effectively and efficiently make use of these funds the communities have been empowered through capacity building to formulate and implement their own projects while the CDFC monitors and evaluates their implementation. We operate in a transparent manner and we announce in a local newsletter produced by my office on how the money received has been allocated to different projects and give implementation status of each project. If there is any misappropriation of funds, it occurs at the project implementation level and in this case the community leaders responsible for the project are held responsible. When we initially started giving money to the communities to implement their own projects we had several reports and observation of poor use of the resources given. But through our intensified project monitoring and evaluation, the cases of poor resource utilization have drastically reduced. Also any misappropriation of any CDF funds by any project is usually reported to us by the local community and we immediately take the necessary measures. Thus over time we are now witnessing increasing accountability on how CDF funds are utilized.
For details on how we have utilized our CDF funds in the last two years I have been in parliament please check on our website. Overall personally I am happy and satisfied that we have used our funds very prudently and the socio-economic impact is evident of the ground. We had made main roads in the constituency all weather and motorable. We have drastically improved our health care system. We have renovated numerous school buildings and constructed classrooms and we have embarked on a very ambitious program to improve academic performance of our schools. Lastly our security has greatly been enhanced through establishment of security posts- manned by Administrative Police in all main market areas.
After your election you set up a website for Emuhaya. How important do you think it is for a constituency to have a web presence? When it was active, did the website help you engage with your constituents and other stakeholders?
The goal of having a website for our constituency is to let the people from my constituency-particularly in the Diaspora to be inform on continuous basis on what development initiatives we are undertaking in our constituency and to afford them a direct opportunity to provide their views and recommendations on what strategies we should adopt to fast-track development in Emuhaya in all sectors. We are also using the website to solicit for financial support for the implementation of various project proposals we have prepared and avail fundamental information on Emuhaya for use by interested parties including researchers.
To date the website has been visited by numerous people in and outside Kenya. We have received a lot of compliments and recommendations on the same. Through the website we have been able to get in touch with various professionals from Emuhaya who are in U.S.A. and Europe among other places. In conclusion we are proud about our website and the role is playing in highlighting our development activities in Emuhaya.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a MP to date? The most rewarding?
Since I become the M.P. I have and continue to face numerous challenges. Among the challenges I initially faced were:
* The culture of giving of money and cooking food for all manner of people
* The expectation that you can solve personal problems of all your constituents
* High financial and job rewards expectations from my supporters
* Pressure from my supporters to alienate and ignore all those who did not support me or opposed me in election campaign
* The fact that people would be unhappy with me if I told them the true on any issue or on their requests or recommendations. Somehow people want to be given hope through flattery and promising them what you know will not happen!
* Unfair and negative criticism and hatred.
* Lack of transparency and accountability among some of my supporters
* The culture of sycophancy where people praise you unnecessarily and don’t tell you the truth!
Over time I have learnt through experience on how to handle the above challenges but one thing I have vowed not to compromise on is to tell lies (dishonest) or be sucked into corruption tendencies or deals. I have remained steadfast, honest and down to earth and committed. Lastly the most rewarding achievement to date is that the people of Emuhaya are fast discarding their culture of begging and expecting handouts and are now striving to make a living through their own struggle. People from all backgrounds now appreciate my efforts to socio-economically transform the community and are proud of me. This is what is giving more energy and determination to work even harder for my people of Emuhaya.