Kenya election 2022: New county governors tackle corruption
By town, I mean Kenya’s 47 counties, and by sheriffs, I mean the recently elected governors, 30 of whom are first-timers on the job.
Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010 that divided the nation into 47 devolved divisions governed by county administrations led by governors.
Many of the new governors have struck the ground running since their inauguration on August 25, issuing forceful orders, particularly on anti-corruption and cost-cutting initiatives.
Some of the findings they have uncovered since taking over seem to validate the widespread belief that corruption was simply transferred to the counties once Kenya moved away from a centralized structure of government.
For example, Kisii Governor Simba Arati disclosed that the county had just 82 cars but employed an estimated 256 drivers, some of whom did not even have proper driving licenses.
Mr Arati told Citizen TV on September 3 that he had 861 employees whose job definitions were unclear.
And he’s not alone: other governors are demanding financial audits and employee headcounts to figure out what’s wrong with their various counties.
Wavinya Ndeti, the governor of Machakos county, disclosed that some of her government’s cars did not even have number plates, despite monies being set aside for the transport department.
A provincial administrator-turned-governor has also received acclaim for his strict office regulations after refusing to admit senior officials to a meeting because they were minutes late.
Governor George Natembeya of Trans-Nzoia county in western Kenya ordered that no one arrives after 09:00 local time, the meeting time.
The conference of county executive committee members, the equivalent of cabinet ministers, was intended to discuss five-year development goals.
According to Karen Mwangi, the CEO of Intel Research Solutions in Kenya, these new governors are conscious that their performance would be judged by voters in five years, which is why numerous incumbent governors were sent home after just one term in last month’s elections.
She thinks that Kenya’s investigative authorities must take steps to bring past governors to justice for overseeing corruption that resulted in massive debts generated by payments to ghost, or non-existent, staff and unpaid invoices, among other difficulties.
County governments were established in response to unhappiness with the highly centralized style of administration, which was criticized for an imbalance in resource distribution, development inequities, the marginalization of certain areas, and a failure to engage the people in governance.
With devolution now approaching its second decade, it may be time to take stock of what has succeeded and what hasn’t in these decentralized entities.
“One wonders whether our nation merely built another layer of government that wastes resources and functions inefficiently.”
A short check indicates that the majority of the new governors would face the pain of large bills totaling over 130 billion Kenyan shillings ($1 billion; £870 million) that their predecessors left behind.
The debts include missed wages and late payments to providers of goods and services.
The counties were also put to the test during the Covid-19 outbreak, when several of them were unable to find adequate critical care unit beds for patients despite being seven years after devolution.
The national government and other development partners rushed in to help, but certain governors were accused of misusing funding.
The devolution of authority to counties was intended to divert attention away from the president in the expectation that Kenyans would pay attention to what was going on in their counties.
But one wonders if our country simply added another layer of government that consumes resources and operates inefficiently, while the fight for the presidency remains the main focus, as we saw in the elections, when Deputy President William Ruto narrowly defeated his main challenger, Raila Odinga, by a margin of 50.5% to 48.8%.
In any event, I’m sure many Kenyans are hope that the zeal with which the new governors have began their tenure will continue, even if it means rubbing their predecessors the wrong way.
And may a similar attitude prevail in the national government when a new administration enters office with the chance to sweep out the skeletons in the departing administration’s closet.
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