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Columnists

Don’t silence voices for public policy change

Winston Churchill said “I always avoid prophesying beforehand, because it is a much better policy to prophesy after the event has already taken place.”

Indeed it is time to start prophesying on the impact of the new and bloated structures of governance in Kenya. In the past few months, some legislators have raised concern over a bloated political system.

Ndhiwa MP Agostino Neto was perhaps the first one to propose a rationalised number of legislators. This was followed by Kikuyu MP Irungu Kang’ata’s proposal to scrap the Senate.

And just last week, Mwingi Central MP Joe Mutambu proposed cutting the number of counties to 14.

This debate should form the basis of conducting a comprehensive and honest impact assessment on our governance structures.

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Figures from the revenue allocation agency show that more than 70 per cent of the allocations to counties end up as personnel emolument (PE).

Less than 30 per cent goes to development. Some counties are not able to spend the allocations. Nepotism is today more rampant than it has ever been in Kenya. It gets even worse as clannism sets in.

We are not dealing with the real issues such as poverty. It is possible that county politics may detract the country from focusing on its global competitiveness.

The history of our country is such that we never conduct impact assessment on any significant policy that has been implemented.

It is a serious omission on our part. In countries where policy implementation is followed by an impact study, changes are swift. For example, in the late 1980s a process of decentralisation was undertaken by the French government.

Initially regions were created and elected regional assemblies set up. Together with the departmental councils these bodies had responsibility for infrastructure spending and maintenance and certain social spending.

They collected revenues through property and other taxes. In addition, a large part of spending was provided by direct grants to such authorities.

The French failed in their first attempt of decentralisation. A review of the policy, followed by reforms, rationalised its governance structure.

In a well-researched paper, Thomas Koelble and Andrew Siddle wrote in their commentary in the July issue of Governance that South Africa’s “decentralisation has not fulfilled its promise.

Municipal governance in South Africa is in a state of paralysis, service delivery failure, and dysfunction.” What went wrong? The major culprit, Koelble and Siddle argue, is a failure of institutional design. “The system ... is highly complex and based on a set of underlying assumptions that are simply not applicable to the South African case.”

In 1997, the Kenyan Parliament came up with the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) to force then ruling party, Kanu, to adopt minimum reforms prior to the elections that year. Part of the laws that were affected was the Chief’s Act that was reduced to virtually nothing.

Politicians largely relied on wrong assumptions that the police would indeed fill up the chief’s security role. Today crime has soared in rural Kenya due to the scattered nature of our homes.

Like in the Western world where we borrowed our security system, police are only effective in an urban environment. Although we know that the chief was critical to our unique security requirement, we have not been able to present empirical evidence on the failure of our security systems especially in rural areas.

Empirical evidence

When people question policy effectiveness, it does not mean that they are against it, rather they are helping to shape a policy that is responsive to citizen needs.

Often there are no built-in mechanisms to trigger change if the policy were to be bad. Like Kenny Rogers, in the 'Gambler', “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run”.

To do all these, you have to have empirical evidence. There are just too many policies, from education to health, which need a review.

It is imprudent to be overly protective of any policy. We must always strive to make it better for those who will come after us.

The writer is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a former Information and Communication permanent secretary.

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