Three things clearly stood out in Deputy President William Ruto’s address while opening the Third Annual Legislative Conference in Mombasa earlier this week.
The first is that devolution has not really delivered for the people of Kenya.
He outlined some of the reasons this has not happened.
The second is that counties are losing a great deal of money in endless litigation in which only a few lawyers benefit, while the third is that county governments have failed to generate much revenue on their own, and what little is collected is neither properly accounted for nor audited.
However, of more importance to many was what was left unsaid — that many county governments are losing tremendous amounts of money due to poor or no planning at all, deliberately flawed procurement processes and all-round corruption.
Also not said is that the legislative arms of these governments are still bent on misusing taxpayers’ money on useless “benchmarking” trips abroad whose sole aim is to give its members a chance to earn the fat per diems they shamelessly feel entitled to even when their costly perambulations do not add value to people’s lives.
One other problem that was not highlighted during the week-long summit is that MCAs are doing exactly what their opposite numbers in the National Assembly do with utter dedication: Seek ever more avenues to siphon money from the National Treasury and control it.
In this case, they are pressing for the setting up of a Ward Development Fund, a proposal that has been repeatedly rejected by the national government and senators, and by governors who see their powers slipping away should it ever be enacted.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong in MCAs seeking to have a say in how their wards are developed, but it is curious that they should persist in the quest when their county governments are unable to utilise the allocations given by the National Treasury for that same purpose.
Instead, the bulk of this money goes into paying salaries and fat-cat lawyers, while they apparently do not know what to do with the fraction meant for development.
According to a recently released report, last year, 14 counties out of 47 did not spend a single coin on development and are in danger of forfeiting the money to the Treasury next month.
So perhaps it makes sense for MCAs to seek to influence those projects that will benefit their people directly at the ward level.
This is because many of their governors are either unwilling or unable to commit the money to development, or are diverting it to other uses.
The Ward Development Equalisation Bill, the brainchild of Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, seeks to set up a Sh21.8 billion fund for all wards, but of course many people are reading local politics in the matter.
It would not be fair to say that there are no honest, hard-working MCAs who would do a great job with an annual Sh15 million.
However, if this demand was ever to be granted, then such a fund must be overseen by a strong watchdog to prevent pilferage.
These annual summits are meant to bring together MCAs and senators ostensibly to discuss and agree on matters of relevance to their legislative function in the counties.
They are meant to be the answer to the yearly governors’ conferences, but so far they have not had the same impact.
Indeed, the only question these summits raise is whether these two levels of government are really necessary, but that is an issue for another day.
This year, almost 2,000 delegates were supposed to be in Mombasa, living in posh hotels and generally enjoying life when not engaged in a series of talkathons.
One can only speculate on the huge sums of money that will be poured into the enterprise at a time when many Kenyans have been rendered homeless by floods and need help urgently.
During the governors’ conference in the same city, it was estimated that at least Sh196 million was spent on them.
Judging by the size of the crowd attending this summit, it is likely to cost a lot more.
At the risk of sounding petty, couldn’t these guys have held their meeting in some public hall in Nairobi and saved these millions for more worthwhile pursuits?
But then again, what is leadership if you don’t get to enjoy the good things in life?
Magesha Ngwiri is a consultant editor. [email protected]