Friday, May 11, 2018

REFERENDUM DEBATE: Scrap Senate and reduce the number of constituencies to cut government costs

By Joseph Lister Nyaringo
The referendum debate is healthy. However, any suggested restructuring of devolved units and the executive branch of government as suggested by honourable Raila Odinga, must also consider reducing the size of national and county governments.

As a developing country, we need to scale down over-representation to cut the cost of running government.

Kenya has a bloated legislature. There is no logic why a nation of 45 million people should have 358 Members of Parliament and 67 Senators. The current constituencies should be merged if we care about effective utilization of public funds.

The US, which is a superpower has 50 governors representing each of the 50 States in the union with 2 Senators each. The House of Representatives, which is the lower house has 435 members. Looking at the size of the US legislature, one may conclude that we are either naïve as a country or do not care about fiscal responsibility and discipline.

It’s also evident that the duplication of roles at the Counties has ballooned the wage bill and consequently, a toll on the exchequer. The funds that should go for development are utilized for recurrent expenditure hence a slump in development.

It’s only a small fraction of the funds the counties receive from the national government that goes for development. The big junk is spent on salaries and other overhead expenses. This the major reason for slow pace of development in Kenya’s 47 counties.  

The raging debate on the wage bill from the 47 Counties isn’t something that can be wished away when the national economic indicators reflect a downward trend. 

Laws are not carved on stones but formed by humans to be changed, augmented, scrapped or improved to suit prevailing governance systems and processes in any nation.

Radical as it may sound, why should reduce the number of constituencies by fusing small ones. We also need to consider abolishing all nominations slots for MCAs, MPs, Senators, and the position of women representatives.

If we look critically, the Senate doesn’t play any big role in legislation compared to the national assembly. Abolishing it will save the country huge financial resources that can be utilized for development.

Note that, the oversight role that the Senate purports to play on the Counties is well taken care of by the County Assemblies and the national government.
Besides, it’s emerging that the Counties; once touted as the pillars of development are proving to be pillars of disunity and clannism especially those split from the larger ethnic groups.  

Raila’s proposal of a three-tier system and the creation of 14 regional blocks in line with the Bomas draft should therefore be debated extensively to arrive at what’s workable and cost effective for the country.

Running the 14 regional blocks as proposed by the former prime Minister, alongside the 47 counties may not be economically viable for taxpayers. Instead, small counties should merge and be reduced to the 14 number of blocks he proposed.

Ironically, this is the year that electoral boundaries are supposed to be reviewed by the IEBC according to the law. Who knows some communities will still press for new constituencies or wards when common sense dictates that it has become hard for the country to sustain the current mapped electoral areas.

There are no defined and clear roles for County commissioners when we have elected Governors who are the CEOs of their respective counties. This has often created conflict of interest between the two offices; thereby hampering service delivery. The office of County commissioners should be abolished.

Excessive bureaucracy is wasteful and a delay in service delivery to
the general public. This area needs to be investigated both at the national and county levels as the referendum debate gains traction.

We need to look at what is workable or beneficial to the country and not what is politically expedient to the ruling elite. It’s through downsizing unnecessary bureaucracies nationally and at the County levels that Kenya can move forward and consequently develop economically.

There is no doubt, the current constitution is better than the one we had before 2010. However, the crafters failed to adhere to one fundamental aspect: the ramifications of the bloated legislature and its impact on the national economy. A small government is a panacea for Kenya’s economic success.

The current referendum debate has come at the right time. It should also be remembered that it’s the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who hinted during the 2010 referendum campaigns that anomalies in the current constitution can be rectified later. The time is now!

Kenyans once again have a golden opportunity to point out the pros and cons in current constitution to streamline the faulty areas. The document to be arrived at should be in conformity with the country’s fiscal regime.

Antagonists of the referendum debate like Deputy President William Ruto should play it cool this time round. Let him give Kenyans an opportunity to debate how they want to be governed since it’s the essence of democracy. Nevertheless, the referendum is not about Raila, Uhuru or Ruto but the people of Kenya.  

Finally, a stitch in time saves nine. Kenyans have a golden opportunity to chart a new path by striking out flaws in the current constitution. What shall be arrived at must ensure an inclusive, just, fair and equitable society.

Nyaringo is the president of Kenya Patriotic Movement, a diaspora lobby based in the US

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