County assemblies are pivotal in devolution. They represent the interest of the people at the grassroots and provide oversight to the county governments, especially resource utilisation. However, their impact is hardly felt for, among other reasons, legal, policy and budgetary constraints.
On their own, often, they are prone to perennial fights, unjustified trips and unreasonable demands on national and county governments. This justifies national debate on their role and, in particular, sketching the correct path for them. Thus, the Fourth Legislative Summit that takes place in Kisumu this week is apt.
For devolution to work, people’s representatives must be properly seized of their mandate. Importantly, the public ought to be appropriately appraised of what to expect from the representatives and, in turn, make legitimate demands on them.
Part of the reason why the assemblies have been constricted is finances. In the early years of devolution, they were bound to operate on budgets provided by county governments. To this extent, they were one, underfunded and, two, beholden to the county authorities. However, this has since changed following legislative interventions that provided for separate budgetary allocations to the assemblies under the custody of County Speakers.
But listening to the deliberations at the summit, there is a serious concern that the assemblies are still underfunded. This requires intervention. But it must be justified. On paper, county assemblies do not implement programmes — that is the work of county governments — so they do not need much cash. However, as entities, they have financial commitments and, hence, must be properly funded. Research, legislation, networking, among others, have resource implications, however modest.
Nevertheless, we are concerned that the thrust of the deliberations is welfare. Raising demands about personal emoluments, pension for serving for five years, interest-free car loans, among others, cast the assemblies as inherently selfish institutions obsessed with the interest of members rather than the electorate.
Parliament is notorious for this and has infected the assemblies with the bug, which is repulsive. Public offices are for service, not personal aggrandisement. Part of the reason why critics fault the Constitution is that it is layered and hugely expensive to run.
The assemblies have a great opportunity this week to tackle issues that stifle devolution. Formula for budgetary allocations, delays in disbursements to counties, monitoring finances and efficacy of the units to make laws are at the heart of devolution and the subjects the assemblies should devote their energies to.