When two factions of Bungoma County Assembly clashed over budgetary allocations on Monday, many questions were raised. Do they support devolution or are they on a self-serving mission? Some asked.
Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo was blunt: “Are they really serving Kenyans?” she posed.
During the swearing-in of MCAs in Kericho County in 2017, one nominated member did not take the oath.
Ms Annah Koskei simply said: "Niko na homa (I’ve the flu), and slumped back into her seat.
It was not long before residents understood that she simply could not express herself in English. By her own admission, she didn't go beyond primary school.
And in the latest hilarious video clip doing the rounds, in which she speaks in broken Kiswahili, Ms Koskei boasts that Governor Paul Chepkwony nominated her and therefore it is her duty to defend him from critics who have nothing much to show for their better education.
“Mtu ambaye alininominet ni gavana. Na nikisikia hata kitu kidogo karibu naenda hospitali (the governor nominated me and whenever I get negative information about him it makes me sick),” she told a crowd that had attended the swearing-in of members of Litein Municipal Board last month.
“Chunga gavana. Mimi sifichi. Nikisikia mtu anaongea mbaya namwambia (defend the governor. Whenever I hear someone bad-mouthing him I tell him), the MCA said, prompting Prof Chepkwony and other leaders to break into laughter.
Ms Koskei is an example of the quality of leaders representing voters in county assemblies.
The assemblies are under sharp focus over their performance six years into devolution. They are meant to enact laws at the county level and provide oversight on the executive.
They are also supposed to approve plans and policies for management of resources and institutions, but queries have been raised about their performance since inception in 2013.
Ms Odhiambo said the huge number of ward representatives is not commensurate with the work they do, and should therefore be reduced.
Issuing her recommendations, she said whereas the 2,222 MCAs have contributed to the ballooning wage bill, most are incapable of critiquing county budgets.
“These are institutions that have been given a very big mandate. They are supposed to review, discuss and approve county budgets. But those budgets are approved within one sitting,” said Ms Odhiambo.
“The Budget and Appropriations Committee looks at the proposed budget in an hour or so, passes it onto the House and it is adopted in one day. So, the capacity of county assemblies has to be looked at,” she said.
Ms Odhiambo called for a reduction in the number of MCAs. She told the Building Bridges Initiative Task Force that changes in the law should consider trimming the number of MCAs to reduce the punitive wage bill.
In Kisumu and Kakamega, for instance, none of the current MCAs has sponsored a bill since they took office in 2017. All the seven bills passed so far have been generated by the executive.
Most assemblies have also been criticised for engaging in endless wrangles over perks and positions.
So serious is the situation that ODM leader Raila Odinga has proposed changes to the Constitution to improve governance in county assemblies so as to boost services.
“The Kenyan society is saddened by developments in our county assemblies. They have become theatres of the absurd, hence the urgent need to rectify the situation in the upcoming referendum to improve service delivery to the people,” Mr Odinga said.
Instead of debating issues to improve people’s livelihoods, MCAs have resorted to “violence and thuggery. We have seen these unfortunate developments emerging in most of our county assemblies,” Mr Odinga said.
He cited Nyeri, Nairobi, Kakamega, Kisumu and Homa Bay as some of the assemblies with bad records.
In Kakamega, MCAs have passed 15 bills in the past one year compared with the previous assembly’s 13 during its entire term.
Speaker Maurice Bulima said the assembly was keen to ensure that the business before the house is given top priority.
Nyamira County has passed four bills this year. In Homa Bay, MCAs started their current term with battles for leadership posts, bringing House business to a standstill.
The assembly was divided into camps that fought over leadership positions for the better part of its first year, including the post of Speaker.
Embattled Speaker Elizabeth Ayoo has been accused of engaging in corruption and setting back assembly activities.
Although Ms Ayoo obtained a court order reinstating her, MCAs have refused to recognise her.
The fight brought the assembly to a halt with several court battles and impeachment motions.
The wrangles saw changes in some of the disputed positions, developments that were seen as a solution to the rows and a way of speeding up house activities. The assembly has passed nine bills.
The latest laws to be approved by the 60 MCAs serving under the leadership of acting Speaker Evance Marieba and Majority Leader Walter Were include the Inspectorate Service and Compliance Act 2019.
The Act is expected to create youth employment opportunities. Another is the Homa Bay County Community Health Services Act 2019, which requires the county government to pay community health workers a monthly stipend.
Others are the County Cultural Heritage Bill, County Revenue Administration Bill, County Valuation and Rating Bill 2018, County Trade (Licensing) and Markets Bill 2018, and County Investment and Development Cooperation Bill 2018.
“Apart from the bills, there are motions which members have debated on to ensure there is efficient service delivery to residents,” Mr Marieba said.
In Vihiga, the county assembly has passed six bills in the past one year while two others are still pending before committees, Speaker Hasna Mudeizi said.
They include the Lake Region Economic Bloc Bill, 2019. Ms Mudeizi said that several motions, some policies and regulations have been adopted by the assembly.
“As per Articles 118 and 196 of the Constitution, the county assembly will soon be among a few that will engage the public in decision-making through effective public participation,” said Ms Mudeizi.
She said the assembly plans to unveil the Bunge Mashinani Initiative — a forum for local people to air their views and grievances.
“Without compromising our oversight role, the assembly has continued to work with the executive which has positively impacted on service delivery,” she said.
But Ms Mudeizi complained that budgetary ceilings have constrained assembly operations.