What Nairobians expect from governor-elect Sonko

Nairobi governor-elect Mike Mbuvi Sonko (left) with his deputy, Mr Polycarp Igathe, during the launch of their manifesto. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG
Nairobi governor-elect Mike Mbuvi Sonko (left) with his deputy, Mr Polycarp Igathe, during the launch of their manifesto. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG 

Nairobi residents are this week expected to start adjusting to the reality of living under the governorship of Mike Mbuvi Sonko – the flamboyant and populist politician, whose plans for the city have excited and scared thousands in equal measure.

Powered to the high office by a slew of populist interventions and, as some would argue, the failings of an incumbent whose popularity was on freefall, Mr Mbuvi’s detractors felt his antics disqualified him from gunning for such high office.

But Sonko, as he is popularly known, simply took advantage of failings of the national and county governments by catering to the basic needs of the poor – food, shelter, healthcare and clothing.

Whether or not his interventions were economically sound, he secured a following huge enough to cast over 840,000 votes in his favour last Tuesday, ousting Evans Kidero, a corporate Kenya honcho.

It is now incumbent on the new governor and his deputy, Polycarp Igathe, the former Vivo Energy managing director, to step up to the self-imposed challenge that running Kenya’s capital city is.

One of their biggest headaches, the Business Daily believes, will stem from the same promises contained in his blueprint – to improve service delivery but cut levies, rates and licences.

Sonko, staying true to his protector-of-the-disenfranchised image, has, for instance, promised to reduce the daily parking fees from Sh300 to Sh150.

This would halve City Hall’s biggest income stream to Sh1 billion annually, leaving many to question how the new leadership proposes to fill the revenue hole.

Business licence fees and land rates will also revert to amounts last witnessed five years ago, mama mbogas will get a free pass while hawkers have been promised a better working environment.

However, according to the controller of budget’s report, Nairobi local revenues grew by just one per cent (or by Sh100 million to Sh11.7 billion) in the year to June 2016) as most key income streams declined.

Rates, parking fees, building permits and single business permits, which are now in line to be shrunk, accounted for Sh8.1 billion of this income, trailing targets by Sh2.8 billion.

Parking fees, for instance, earned City Hall Sh2.03 billion, which was 21.6 per cent shy of the Sh2.6 billion that city administrators hoped to collect.

City Hall also received Sh13.4 billion from the Treasury and donors, an amount insufficient to even pay the salaries of county staff who gulp Sh13.5 billion a year (or 56.2 per cent of the total expenditure).

This is above the 35 per cent threshold that is set out in the law. For the county to operate efficiently, the new leadership has to urgently address its extremely high wage bill. More worryingly, a paltry Sh4.17 billion went towards development.

This is an area where Sonko is looking to outshine his predecessor, promising to implement multi-billion shilling projects in sectors like housing, transport and health.

For instance, the governor-elect promises to build multistorey and sunken car parks, park and ride stations along Thika Road, Waiyaki Way, Mombasa Road and Ngong Road, several footbridges, and designate specific drop and pick-up points for PSVs.

He also plans to accelerate the slum upgrading programme, build health centres and markets across to ensure that there is one for every 25,000 residents and build over 1,000 new primary schools in Nairobi. All this while reducing the amount that City Hall collects from Nairobians.

Granted, City Hall’s perennial financial constraints are exacerbated by the fact that corruption cartels – who include its own employees -- have their snorts on the trough, lining their pockets at the expense of Nairobians.

Here, he says he will, among other things, run the cartels out of town, digitise service delivery, halt land grabbing all with the aim of ensuring that “the county government exists to serve its residents and not pay salaries.”

It is clear that the new leadership needs to prioritise its interventions, matching them with the budgetary realities, execution timelines and be ready to deal with a national government that is not keen on relinquishing some roles or funding them on time.

The governor-elect and his team must also have the temerity to shelve unsound promises if, after interrogation in the post-election calmness, they fall short of sound economics.

The new administration should concentrate its immediate efforts towards cleaning up the city, providing clean water, shelter and better sanitation for all Nairobians.

Nairobi residents need and deserve a better traffic management system. Businesses are ready to pay their fair share of levies but also deserve to live free of harassment by county officials who hound them every day.

Sonko should, as he has promised, improve the lives of Nairobians; serve them diligently irrespective of their economic or political background.

But for this to happen, for Nairobi to maximise its economic potential, the new policies and structures should be informed by data and solid research , and not destructive populism.