Do Kenyans Own The Referendum Agenda? – Alex Ndungu Njeru

I have followed the calls for the a referendum in Kenya with much chagrin, first because I am convinced that Kenya does indeed need a referendum and second because I believe this needs not be in the style and fashion that the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy and the governors council have brought forward. See, the 2010 constitution is an incredibly beautiful document, depending on who you ask.  It is good that we deceived our hearts that the document envisioned to devolve services and development to the people.  Politicians are a greedy lot; they are rarely vociferous about anything that has no capping of individual benefit.  Hence it would be difficult to imagine that the politicians would have seen through a document that was critically deficient in personal gains. The governorship was for example brought through to devolve the imperial presidency and not to give citizens up close control of governance and administration. In the former constitutional dispensation the ‘presidency was a symbol of power’ and it has to be said in Africa, the illusion of power is fuelled by resources or simply put money and governors want the money that comes with the pomp and glamour that comes with the title.

There are most glaring similarities between CORD’s referendum agenda and the governors’ referendum, the most conspicuous being that all those ‘agenda’ are led and spearheaded by politicians. Governors are politicians, it is foolhardy to think that they aren’t, I think we all bought that little white lie about them being managers or rather the constitutional aspiration was for them to be managers and not politicians; the same can be said about those at the helm of CORD’s leadership. The point here being that Kenyans themselves have never taken control of the direction of the agenda and policy in this country, no so more than ever their ability to take charge has been weakened by a dilution of civil society and the lack thereof of Civil Society’s ability to become independent arbiter on issues of national interest. Kenyan Civil Society has relegated itself to the role of   ‘gun for hire’ rather than offer reasoned opinion and guidance on matters of national interest.

So what are the issues the governors are agitating for? Are they Kenya friendly? Top on the agenda for the governors’ call for a referendum is; the amendment of Article 203(2) of the constitution to increase the minimum allocation to the counties from 15 per cent to 45 per cent of the national Budget. For good measure the governors want more money in their coffers, because as Isaac Rutto puts it, “Kenya’s devolution is a massive transition and requires huge resources. Counties need money for health, roads, agriculture and many other functions. This is the main reason for a push for a referendum.” One wonders whether they have made a good account of the monies they have at their disposal. Or whether they have put creative measures in place that balances their dependence on national government revenue? After the onset of the 2010 constitution, many local governments were coalesced into single administrative units, William Kabogo for example lords over what used to be; Thika Municipal Council, Kiambu municipal council and Kiambu county council, Kenyans are yet to enjoy the benefits of this administrative efficiency, far from it they are suffering from it. A reading of most finance bills from the counties indicates a hike in levies and license fees. For example the, Murang’a county raised the license for a ‘Wholesale premise 300msq to 3000msq (zone A)’ from 10,000 KSHs to 40,000 KSHs in 2013, there are countless examples to go by across the country.

The governors have also thrown a few enticers to the Senators and the Members of county assembly as well. The governors want, ‘want to strengthen the Senate’s role by divorcing its functions from those of the National Assembly and giving senators the final say on county matters.’ They also want Members of County Assembly to enjoy the same benefits that Members of the National Assembly enjoy, what a masterstroke in poisoned chalice?

CORD’s referendum agenda regurgitates around; disbandment of the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission, security and devolution. I wouldn’t expect too much difference in fine text between CORD’s agenda and the governors’ agenda. What I have not seen, is an explicitly Kenyan agenda. I have not seen points in the agenda that impel both the governors in the county government and the national government to be frugal with taxpayer money. Both levels of governments seem in competition to spend taxpayer’s resources till they drop. I have not seen points in the referenda that put new thresholds of accountability. No points to ensure that our governments are frugal with every single coin they have, I can see Ghana laughing at us from their economic quagmire. As a forward thinking Kenyan, these are the issues that I would want to be the heart of the referendum push. Kenyans want; smaller, leaner and efficient government be that at county level or national. We want capable legislatures in the 47 counties as well as the national assembly.

Do we need the referendum now? I am not sure but in the last general election, Kenyans marked a whopping 6 ballot papers, a 7th would not be that hard a task.