Columnists

Revenue row validates Constitution

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Senate proceedings. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The failure by Senate to hitherto arrive at a compromise has several silver linings.
  • Politicians take sides in important national discourse based on their selfish interests and the whims of their party leaders.
  • They rarely question those instructions. Watching the senators on different sides of the revenue formula debate, one will see strange bedfellows.

The Constitution requires equitable sharing of revenues to county governments and with the national government. Counties are allocated at least 15percent of the revenue raised by the national government.

This sum is then distributed amongst county governments in accordance with criteria resolved by Senate every five years. Senate is required to give the parameters considering guidance from the Commission on Revenue Allocation.

Since the coming into operations of the Senate and counties two revenue allocation formulas have been developed and guided these allocations. The country is due for the third formula. Arriving at it has, however, been emotive, contentious, hilarious and at times frustrating. In the process political ties have been threatened, county operations jeopardised, the role of several institutions questioned, and the feasibility of the constitutional architecture raised.

Senate adjourned for the seventh time this past week, unable to agree on the formula to guide the allocations for the next five years. While there is a lot of backlash against the Senate for not agreeing on the formula, there is greater lessons from the current impasse which should not be lost.

The failure by Senate to hitherto arrive at a compromise has several silver linings. First, our politics has largely been ethnic, parochial, and non-principled. Politicians take sides in important national discourse based on their selfish interests and the whims of their party leaders. They rarely question those instructions. Watching the senators on different sides of the revenue formula debate, one will see strange bedfellows.

Watching a debate on one of the national media stations this past week, I was impressed to see the differences of opinions from two youthful senators that invariably sing the same political tune in almost all national political positions. On the formula though they held diametrically opposite positions. While one may disagree with either of their opinions, the fact that it is based on honest and informed belief and analysis, shows the political maturity that the country needs.

World over, political parties are based on ideologies. The contestation about whether the allocations of resources should be based on population as the single criteria or should be guided by others to avoid any county losing revenue should be an ideological debate.

If we deepened our political persuasions it would help inform what kind of divisions we have in the country. One that is based not on ethnic affiliations of the leadership and a majority of the membership but rather on how politics is organised and policy options on a variety of issues be it finances, land, economy, governance amongst others.

Secondly, the debate demonstrates that devolution is a fundamental part of the constitutional architecture, one that is embedded in the minds of citizens across the political and regional spectrum. It is impossible to wish it away or try to get rid of it.

It has its imperfections and challenges but there is widespread acknowledgement that it plays a critical role in addressing past inequalities and regional developmental disparities. The future development trajectory must contend with devolution. Efforts can only be made to strengthen it. Any efforts to whittle it down will lead to strong opposition and political separation of otherwise bosom buddies.

Thirdly, there has been a lot of disputes regarding how the national cake is shared. It was a big driving force for the 2010 Constitution and the creation of counties. It continues to be a thorny matter, evidenced by the periodic turf wars between Senate and the National Assembly and several corruption cases before the Senate. County governments at one point started a process to sponsor a constitutional amendment to ensure that the allocations are increased.

As the country debates whether and how to make changes to the frameworks under the Constitution, sight should not be lost of the strengths that exist currently. Any changes should not seek to water these down.