Governors have differed over proposals to reduce the number of counties in the renewed push to change the Constitution.
While governors under the Frontier Counties Development Council argued that reducing the number will further marginalise them, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Vihiga’s Wilbur Ottichilo say the devolved units should be relooked.
Mr Oparanya argued that some counties are like “villages” in others, yet they are receiving the same treatment. “We have a bloated government. There are 349 MPs and 67 senators who earn close to Sh1 million every month. There are so many MCAs plus the 16 independent commissions are too many for the country’s economy to support,” said Mr Oparanya.
Mr Ottichilo said some counties, Vihiga included, are not viable, and that is why they are joining regional economic blocs to create bigger and viable units. "Devolution was about development but the wage bill in most counties is too high, leaving only 30 per cent for development. Let us go for the Bomas draft that proposed the country to be divided into 14 regions,” said Mr Ottichilo.
But governors in the northern frontier counties — Turkana’s Josphat Nanok, Mohamed Kuti (Isiolo), Ali Roba (Mandera), Mohamud Ali (Marsabit) and Abdi Korane (Garissa) called for a better devolved structure, and the release of functions still being performed at the national level. “Counties have made tremendous difference to people’s lives especially in grass roots since the inception of devolution. Instead of reducing them, we should be looking at how to reduce the number of MPs and senators since we are over-represented in the two Houses,” Governor Kuti said.
Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga said: “It would be wrong to reduce the number of counties because this is the only time that Kenyans are benefiting. If we are looking at reducing the wage bill, let's start with reducing the number of MPs, who are expensive to sustain.”
The proposal to reduce the counties to 12 was made by Ndia MP George Kariuki. He proposed that the regions be headed by a provincial governor in a bid to reduce the bloated wage bill.
Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki said it was politically impossible to merge any county with another in Kenya, saying Kenyans are not interested in reducing the number of counties, but more funding to the devolved units.
“An overwhelming majority of Kenyans would resist efforts to take any functions of county governments back to the national government. What is needed is more resources and capacity building for counties to handle sensitive functions like health services,” said Prof Kindiki. However, Kirinyaga Senator Charles Kibiru, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro supported the proposal to reduce counties, arguing that the burden of financing the 47 devolved units has resulted in over-taxation of Kenyans.
Some leaders also want some of the constituencies merged to bring down the number to the initial 210.
“We need to look at the viability of the 47 counties. The representation in Parliament should also match the population because we have elected leaders who are representing very few people,” said the Kirinyaga senator.
Imenti North MP Rahim Dawood said counties should either be reduced to a maximum of 20 while the number of constituencies should revert to the initial 210.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said should the counties be merged, the national government will be undermined and its power eroded. “If such a proposal sees the light of the day, this could mean that the national government will be undermined and the newly formed counties might be so powerful that they could even initiate secession plans,” he said.
In western Kenya, MPs who have supported the proposal to reduce elective positions are National Assembly chief whip Benjamin Washiali, Justus Murunga of Matungu, Titus Khamala (Lurambi) and Christopher Aseka (Khwisero).
Mr Washiali further wants the Senate scrapped, arguing that senators have failed in their oversight role. “They should leave the role to MCAs,” said Mr Washiali, adding: “Calls to change the Constitution should be about reducing the burden for Wanjiku. It's about reducing elective and nominated positions, not adding. It's not about adding the position of a Prime Minister or creating a parliamentary system."
— Reported by Shaban Makokha, Grace Gitau, Ndung’u Gachane, Vivian Jebet, Alex Njeru and Gitonga Marete