Kenyans are bracing themselves for a long and loud campaign period that will culminate in election of office holders in 2013. Legislators are also in a hurry to pass key bills. In February 2012 alone, the parliament hurriedly passed three key devolution bills namely The County Governments Bill, the Transition to Devolved Governments Bill and the Intergovernmental Relations Bill. The president has since assented to the latter two.
Devolution is one of the biggest aspects of the constitution besides a strong bill of rights, strong checks and balances, citizen participation, transparency and accountability in governance. Several pieces of legislation have either received presidential assent, been passed by parliament or are at another advanced stage of enactment. These include The Urban areas and Cities Act 201, Devolved Government Bill, 2011; Transition to County Governments Bill, 2011Intergovernmental Relations Bill, 2011Intergovernmental Fiscal Bill, 2011 and the County Governmental Bill, 2011. These are all meant to ensure efficiency in the running of county governments and smoothness of relations with the central government.
There have already been disagreements some of which are in court including the appointment of county commissioners by the president. The president also refused to assent to the Devolved Government Bill arguing that it was partly unconstitutional. These mishaps are expected more so in our case as a country. The transition is never going to be smooth with the Kenyan experiment and is likely to face major challenges including possible resistance by the central government to cede its traditional powers to the counties.
It is important to point out that Kenyans are presented with a new system of governance complete with a new set of policy frameworks. More importantly Kenyans, the grassroots communities in particular, should be empowered with information so as to understand the specific implications of these new laws and how they fit into the national constitution. Most Kenyans are still ignorant of the most rudimentary aspects of the expected operations of devolved governments.
All development partners and the government should channel enough resources to civic education if the devolution dream is to be realized for Wanjiku. This is particularly important if the same Wanjikus are to effectively participate in setting up, monitoring and generally participating in governance at the grassroots level. Caution should also be taken so that the elites do not subvert the good intentions of our constitution with false interpretations.
It’s important to note that in a devolved system, the locals have a pivotal role in decision making (right from voting) and have a great responsibility in development.