THANG’WA: A handshake is fine but there are pressing problems that must be tackled - Daily Nation

A handshake is fine but there are pressing problems that must be tackled

Wednesday March 21 2018

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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Eight months after a bitterly contested election in August the protagonists in the drama have come together, in public, and declared a unity of purpose that, to quote the President’s speech, “is to unite and heal Kenya following a divisive general election in 2017”.

That is all well and good, but it might be useful for someone to remind the two gentlemen certain facts. One is that in the last general election all the violence witnessed was that meted against the public by the police. The nation did not experience any sort of ethnic violence as was prophesied by the doomsayers.

The credit goes to the Kenyan people. It might be that we have learnt something from our collective traumatic experiences in 2008. While we bury our dead, take care of orphans and make all efforts to comfort widows and widowers, the politicians meet over “high tea” and shake hands.

It is for this reason that President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga should not sell us the ethnic card anymore. Kenyans will not buy it. There is nothing wrong with being Luo, or Kikuyu or Luhya or Kalenjin or Somali. This applies to each and every one of the 44 Kenyan communities. Cultural diversity all over the world has been recognised as a strength. What the two can and should save this country from is the 2010 Constitution, corruption, inefficiency, duplication in government and a monstrous wage bill.

REPLICATION OF VICES

It is now quite clear that even if the Constitution was as well thought out as expected, its implementation and a combination of the above factors are putting the country in a dark place. There are places where the devolved regions have worked very well. Without a doubt many Kenyans have very well-paying jobs, many rural areas are experiencing economic revival, Kenyans at the grassroots have been presented with an opportunity at self-determination and areas marginalised since independence are starting to feel the impact of government in their regions.

However, in a majority of the counties the replication of the vices of the national government has been the story for the last five years and it seems that things will get worse. Counties, as envisioned in the Constitution, were supposed to be first units of production that do not only uplift the life of ordinary Kenyans, but also supplement and enhance the gross domestic product. This has not happened and without the moral temerity to eradicate corruption, it will not happen.

Kenyans are constantly bombarded with debates on how much allocation the central government should give to the devolved units and from all indications this will suffer severe cutbacks if plans from the national Treasury are implemented.

TAXPAYERS' BURDEN

There has been little or no debate on how much of these funds should be generated by the counties. The attitude of “it is our time to eat” pervades government at all levels, almost chocking to death the gains that Kenyans were expected to enjoy from a nation with a devolved government.

According to the IEBC, Kenya has 19 million registered voters. According to the Kenya Revenue Authority only about two million Kenyans (voters) filed their tax returns in 2016. Assuming that one million people did not file returns for one reason or another, and one million are elderly and not gainfully employed, how do we account for the remaining 15 million Kenyans? Are the two million Kenyans expected to support 47 more wasteful than prudent counties, 349 members of Parliament, 67 senators and over 2,000 MCAs? Is this realistic or practical?

The fact that these people want to earn megabucks does not help the situation at all. These are the issues that genuine leaders should be discussing, not power sharing amongst parties. The two million Kenyans are also expected to run a national infrastructure, an education system, support the elderly and to a great extent feed an ailing National Hospital Insurance Fund. Understandably, individual taxes are not the only source of income for government, but the data is readily available to compare against registered voters.

GOVERNORS' EXCESSES

Article 209 (3) of the Constitution empowers county governments to impose certain types of taxes in their jurisdictions. I sure hope they are having better luck than the KRA. Until counties become units of production and then consumption, the broke-and-cutback story from the Treasury will continue, creating concerns on the viability of Kenyans’ much needed devolution. And these fellow Kenyans cannot be blamed on Mr Kenyatta and or Mr Odinga and their handshake. I wish it could be!

Governors must find ways to reduce their own excesses, starting with the wage bill. Each cycle of five years means more employees, if the advertisements that have run in the paper are anything to go by. Employment is a consumer of resources not a creator of wealth. Yet for counties to be sustainable they must create their own wealth. The salient idea behind the counties was to create a local conduit of production, collection and redistribution as was well structured and understood in many African societies.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa