Legislatures have three fundamental functions across the world. They legislate, oversight and represent. The adoption of the 2010 Constitution created two legislatures with responsibility for undertaking these mandates in support of devolution. At the national level is the Senate, whose principal mandate is to represent the counties, and protect their interests and that of their governments. It makes laws, passes budgets, represents and oversights counties.
In addition, each of the 47 counties has an assembly whose responsibilities are lawmaking, representation and oversight. To ensure that the two levels co-ordinate and reinforce each other in supporting devolution, they have since the advent of devolution held meetings. One such forum has been the annual legislative summit. This was conceptualised as a forum for all the Members of the County Assemblies from all the counties in the country to meet with all the Senators under an identified theme every year to deliberate on maters important for their mandate in the devolution space.
I was privileged to attend this year’s summit in Kisumu. This was the fourth since 2013 and had the theme of accelerating devolution and assessing progress and dealing with policy and legislative gaps.
Some interesting issues were raised which are at the heart of deepening devolution and require to be pursued. But first some not very good things. First, for the second year in a row media headlines focused more on welfare issues raised by the Members of the County Assemblies (MCA) than on the substantive discussions. Both media houses and the MCAs are to blame for this. A panel discussion on media coverage with journalists who had been covering the event demonstrated the work that both sides must do to ensure more positive and in-depth coverage.
On the media side, the focus on negative news more than positive news is an enduring limitation of the quality of journalism and the focus of training. It is time that the media realize that their role includes shaping opinion of society. You cannot do this by only focusing on negative angles of news.
On their part, the MCAs continued raising issues of welfare in many of the sessions on the basis that it was critical for their oversight work. Without getting into the merits and demerits of their contention, strategically it is important to realise that raising this issue had the effect of crowding out other substantive discussions. In addition, it is always reported as if the members are selfish although the things, they are asking for are also enjoyed by members of the national assembly. It is still important to realise that starteg9cally, it does not help the cause of the MCAs to unwittingly turn the coverage of their premier event, which discusses substantive and far reaching issues on devolution into a welfare discussion. Such approach ends up jeopardising their claims.
The second negative issue was the lack of high-level representation from the Executive. This sends a negative message on the appreciation of the role that these two institutions play in devolution.
Some key take-away messages. First, as evidenced by the absence of several invited guests from the Executive, it is important that national executive and its agencies involve both the senate and county assemblies in all key processes that affect devolved units.
This will enhance success of these processes and also ensure that the two institutions play their constitutional role more robustly. Take the upcoming population and household census, to have an important process, being less than five months away and not have engaged this critical constituencies are a demonstration of lack of good faith on the part of the executive.
Secondly, the need to harmonise the roles of national and county governments to avoid duplication and wastage of resources was underscored.
Thirdly, county assemblies have an important role to play in implementation of the Big Four Agenda by passing necessary supportive legislation at the county level. Lastly, increased capacity building is essential for the legislative arm to continue to support the implementation of devolution and ensure its transformative effect is deepened across the country.