By: H.M. Okumu
Around 3 months ago former legislator Boni Khalwale came up with the recommendation that counties should be merged to create 14 new devolved units. This suggestion landed on ready ears for a country struggling with a soaring wage bill and overbearing foreign debt. This is such that if a genie asked a random Kenyan what their 3 wishes are I guess the response would be “less debt, less debt, less debt”. There has been debate over whether the Constitution should be amended to review the counties’ boundaries to create new ones while merging the present units. Those propagating for the reduction of counties argue that the 47 devolved units are expensive to maintain bearing in mind that over 50 percent of the money sent by the National Treasury to counties is spent on paying salaries at the expense of development.
But how exactly did we get here?
I believe that we can trace Kenya’s financial problems to the 1990s to the early 2000s when the first mega corruption scandals such as the Goldenburg and Anglo leasing loots were taking place. When Former President Mwai Kibaki inherited the government from strongman Daniel Moi, he inherited a raft of corruption scandals that had badly damaged the Kenyan economy.
Well vast in economics and public finance, President Kibaki embarked on a series of measures aimed at revamping the Kenyan economy. At the first he greatly succeeded and Kenya was on a steady streak of economic growth and development. One of his major accomplishments being the introduction of Free Primary Education. It looked like Kenya was finally on the financial pedestal it desired to be in.
Soft spoken, reserved and effective, Kibaki’s personality also seemed to work magic with the economy. As opposed to the easily rattled Moi, Kibaki managed to keep a closed lid on his displeasure with opponents and critics. Often engaging in nothing more than verbal rhetoric and the occasional “Mafi ya kuku” remark Kibaki’s tenure is remembered as a golden age for Kenya’s economy.
The country was almost recovering from the economic downturns of the 90s up until when some political feathers were raffled within the NARC government. The alliance of pro democracy leaders who could be christened the “leaders of the golden age” was facing internal disruptions. Fears of promises not being fulfilled and a government tilting referendum dealt the steadily growing economy a huge blow. Former President Kibaki had to deviate from his economic agenda in order to whip his government into order.
A raging referendum later and the country was divided sharply as the economy was similarly being impacted negatively. The racing animosity built into a volcanic eruption that is painfully remembered as the 2007/8 lost elections. Lives were lost, people displaced and the economy shattered. The grand coalition government was a welcome occurrence and the unity enabled the two co-principals to steer the country forward. Mr Odinga, well vast in infrastructure development was a welcome addition to Kibaki’s economic enterprise. The hope brought by the new constitution steered the country towards a single digit growth rate.
But with the hope came a soaring budget, the Constitution 2010 was very necessary but similarly very expensive. The creation of 47 counties although a long term investment was a huge short term expense. For this constitutional infrastructure to work the tax payer had to cough up some extra billions. The pressure to the taxpayer further increased when in 2013, a new adminstration took the reigns of power.
Corruption cartels were set loose on the taxpayer’s money and the devolved units served as devolved units for corruption syndicates. From 200,000 shillings to buy wheelbarrows to 20 million being sent to personal accounts to billions being plundered in county coffers, the country has been treated to numerous shows of how devolved units have become devolved money sucking parasites.
This is probably why the former Ikolomani MP says the 47 counties are a heavy burden to the Kenyan taxpayer who shoulders a heavy load of paying all county employees in the 47 administrative units. According to Khalwale Kenya can only afford to have 14 counties which he says should include Nairobi, Lower Eastern, Upper Eastern, North Eastern, Upper Western and Lower Western. Others, he says, should be Upper Coast, Lower Coast, North Rift, South Rift, Lake Basin, Southern Nyanza, West Mount Kenya and Central.
“California State in the USA is bigger than Kenya,” he said in a tweet implying that there was no need for Kenya to have smaller counties. However, what Dr Khalwale has not considered is the immense value that these devolved units have offered Kenyans. Before 2013 resources were centralized in Nairobi and far flung counties like Wajir, Busia and Mandera were under the mercies of the central government. This, among other reasons is why Kenya use to have a “super – presidency” that was subject to abuse by crafty people both within and around the corridors of power.
Before county units the development of Nyeri County depended on the goodwill of whoever is in power but today because of the provision of county finances, Nyeri can develop well even without a president who has goodwill towards the region. This is why instead of merging counties, we, as a country can think of other means of cutting down on our national expenses. One of the ways is a huge salary cut for public servants and particularly parliamentarians.
I believe the SRC should consider slashing the salaries and remunerations of MPs, senators, governors and MCAs by 50%. The Commission should also consider cutting the benefits and salaries of all public servants earning a salary of above 500,000. The highest paid civil servant should not earn more than 600,000 inclusive of all other benefits. This is because 600,000 is more than enough to support a family in a country where some people live on less than 100 shillings per day.
Secondly, in order to raise more revenue the Kenyan government should adopt means of futuristic investments like Rwanda and Israel by heavily investing in the tech-innovation. In the 21st century, the greatest means of harnessing wealth is through producing new technology that addresses the needs of the world. The government can create more hub centres to provide people particularly the youth with avenues to create new technology to sell to other countries and increases our national revenue.