Monday, August 19, 2013

MOST OF OUR GOVERNORS ARE CLUELESS

Six months after they took over the leadership of counties in the devolved system of government in Kenya, most of our governors and county representatives are still groping in the dark, confused about how they will navigate the mucky terrain of politics and governance to deliver goods to their people.

Many of those leaders have no clue at all about the art of governance; many are still struggling to understand the constitution; and many others think flying a flag and being flanked by a bevy of body- guards is all there is in leadership. Don't get me wrong. Not all governors and county representatives are in this category. We have a few who have already shown promise and we should encourage them. But majority of our county leaders may end up needing some kind of reality awakening.

When I read that the governor of Nyeri county plans to construct an airstrip to provide a faster corridor for their key products of tea and coffee, I say hooray! When I hear the governor of Nairobi talk about concrete steps to rid the city of traffic jams so that business can run smoothly, I applaud. But when I hear governors talk about spending millions of shillings on entertainment, I boo. Equally, when I hear the governor of Uasin Gishu say that his budget would not be able to accomodate education and clean water, I shudder in disbelief.

What we are seeing in most counties - budgets that dont balance, unrealistic demands for perks; excessive expenditure on luxury cars and gyms and manifestos that are over-rated in terms of goals and timelines - is symptomatic of a serious management problem that could derail the whole concept of devolution and toperdo the high expectations of the people.

The confusion we are witnessing in some counties confirms the suspicion of many that our representatives did not take time to know their job descriptions before they went to ask for votes, and even now, do not understand their responsibilities as elected representatives. They jumped into the train without knowing where they were going and what they were going to do when they got where they were going. So, after winning they went into a state of delirium.

We all agree that there is no university in Kenya - or anywhere else  - that gives hands-on training to incoming politicians on how to handle people and their problems on a day-to-day basis. Those who aspire to lead must therefore be people with inherent qualities of leadership: intelligence, selflessness, humility, charisma and honesty. Equally important, they must be people who are prepared to learn fast and willingly without incessant grumbling over trivialities.

Boycotting sessions to press for more money; throwing tantrums over flags and number plates, and bodyguards, and office space, will not bring development to the people. I can see the next five years zooming past without any yields coming from counties. If that happens, our people wil be demoralised, will lose confidence in the system and may see no need to vote in future polls.

And then there are those counties that are starting off with huge fiscal hurdles. Mombasa county, for example, has an outstanding debt of 4 billion shillings carried forward from the previous council. It can neither pay salaries nor remit statutory contributions to government agencies. Three of its accounts were recently frozen by the Kenya Revenue Authority because it cannot pay outstanding taxes amounting to more than 400 million shillings, Yet it has proposed a budget bigger than that of Nairobi. If the council implements that budget, it will face a huge budget deficit.

The chairman of the commission on revenue allocation, Micar Cheserem, summed it up recently when he said, perhaps the governors do not know the difference between a million and a billion. And it's possible.

My view is that if wananchi are to benefit from the devolved system, the central government must step in with pragmatic solutions to help the counties manage the 210 billion shillings it has allocated them.

And that is my say.