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Avoid playing politics with a city steadily sinking into slime

Friday February 28 2020
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President Uhuru Kenyatta and Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka witness as Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa sign the deal on February 25, 2020 at State House. PHOTO | PSCU

By MAGESHA NGWIRI

It was always a given that should the national government move to salvage the city of Nairobi from the doldrums in which it has sunk, a few individuals would fault any action taken.

And should the same government fail to act, its failures would be amplified by the same folk in social media and other outlets. That is probably why State House chose to confront the cyber-warriors with a fait accompli and then fight the ensuing court battles from a position of strength.

Kenyans seem to enjoy complaining, and when solutions are offered they complain even louder. They will fault the government and take refuge in procedures rather than on substance.

FAME

Legalistic hair-splitting is their forte, possibly because they profit from chaos, or because it earns them fleeting fame. Thus, there is likely to be a din of epic proportions condemning the government for taking over functions that successive Nairobi County governments have failed to discharge.

On Wednesday, Kenyans were taken by surprise when it was revealed that embattled Governor Mike Sonko had ceded four major functions – health, transport, public works and planning – to the national government, a matter that was sealed through the signatures of the governor and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa under the keen gaze of President Uhuru Kenyatta, Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka and Attorney-General Paul Kihara.

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The immediate response by some people was that the government, or some individuals in it, always plotted to kill devolution and this was just the first step. I don’t buy that argument.

The national Executive has demonstrably been reluctant to interfere with devolved units. In September 2014, Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana asked it to dissolve the county government because he could not work with the MCAs. The government did not think it wise to take that route.

VINDICATED

Prof Kibwana was to be vindicated when the entire crop of recalcitrant MCAs was kicked out by voters in 2017.

In July last year, Taita-Taveta Governor Granton Samboja wanted his government suspended because MCAs sought to award themselves millions of shillings for their wards at the expense of services to the constituents.

The government, through Deputy President William Ruto, rejected the petition, urging the two parties to negotiate. Apparently, the negotiations succeeded because nothing about dissolution was heard again. This is not how you go about stealing Devolution.

Some people went as far as suggesting that this was a thinly disguised attempt to “eat” the revenues generated by the city government. But these are the same people who have acknowledged that the city authorities had become one huge cartel led by a clueless governor whose theatrics were always an embarrassment to the country.

Now, all of a sudden, Sonko has become a victim who has been coerced through the evil machinations of the “Deep State” to betray the aspirations of millions of Nairobi dwellers. Phooey!

My view is that the national government should have dissolved the entire county government and made Nairobi a government ministry years ago.

EFFICIENT

While not all ministries are clean or efficient, at least politicians will be kept at bay, leaving bureaucrats, who can be sacked, to carry the can when things go wrong. A modicum of responsibility will thus be engendered when the city is exempted from the laws protecting Devolution.

That, of course, can only be achieved through a referendum, but since we seem to be heading there anyway, why not? Senior lawyers have advanced more structured arguments opposing the national government’s move. They should not be dismissed as the move is certainly fraught with legal imponderables.

Some argue that Mr Sonko has no mandate to surrender any functions unless authorised by the county assembly. Others say the move needed the approval of the county assembly and the Senate.

It was astonishing to hear a politician rant about how the government, of which he is a senior member, was wrong for not seeking the approval of the county executive.

SILENCE

But when everything was going wrong in the city, such people kept a studious silence. What they choose to ignore is that public participation is too broad a concept to have any meaning in this regard. Should the government have convened town hall meetings to seek public approval?

Secondly, in January this year, the Nairobi MCAs conceded that things had gone haywire because the county had no governor or deputy and most services had stalled. They therefore resolved to push for the Nairobi Regeneration Committee formed in 2018 to take over running city affairs. Although I defer to those who are well-steeped in law, it is not easy to determine what other public participation they want if the people’s representatives have thrown in the towel.

Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor. [email protected]

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