County Assemblies: Doomed if They Do, Damned if They Don’t
Author: Mutugi Njue
Newsletter: Kitui Newspaper
In my years as a Public Communications Officer at the County Assembly of Embu, I have come to appreciate how difficult it is for a politician at the grassroots to please the entire electorate.
You see, County Assemblies do all the work; from budget making to drafting of enabling laws that make the work of Governor’s and their cabinets easy, to voicing the needs of their people by proposing projects for possible funding and then they check whether the Executive is working properly. The only thing they do not do is to receive cash and to go and implement these projects on the ground.
However, there is this section of the public that will always ask what their MCA has done for them since the General Election and work extremely hard to show that the Ward Representative has not initiated any development projects. If there are projects, it is said those are started by the Governor or they are too small to count.
On the other hand, when MCAs propose projects and they are not implemented of money is embezzled and they crack the whip by proposing that certain officers get fired, there is still a group that will criticize the leaders saying that they are politicking too much and not giving the Governor’s appointees ample time to work.
Here is a scenario that devolved legislatures are doomed if they do and damned if they don’t. During public participation forums, especially on the county budget, people will propose millions of projects for prioritization. But because the area MCA does not enjoy the largesse of unlimited funding, he may decide to push some proposals to the next fiscal period. And that is a spark to ignite a political war.
Why do Assemblies have to take a beating just because they propose impeachment or sacking of certain individual state or public officers? Are there sufficient grounds for such actions? Do they have legal backing for undertaking such actions? Will the absence of war in the County Assemblies expressly guarantee the presence of peace in the County Government? These are some of the nagging questions that we sometimes refuse to ask ourselves before condemning MCAs for doing their work.
One MCA friend of mine once told me that he was not interested in acquiring a new car for his personal use, but wanted to concentrate on working for his people. After a year, he faced a barrage of insults from people claiming he was either too stingy and could not even buy himself a car to match his status or he was economically daft and he did not know how to plan his finances to accommodate a new car.
The next year, the MCA bought a sleek new vehicle for his local running and a lorry for business. Woe unto him! The same group that was accusing him of not buying a car came guns blazing, claiming that he was too corrupt and had embezzled millions of taxpayers’ funds to finance his motor vehicle purchases. He was besieged at every corner by people who even claimed to know fine details of his payslip.
I have seen the agony Ward Reps go through, being the only elected leaders on the ground and coming into constant contact with the electorate. While people imagine that the MCA job is a bed of roses; a gateway to riches, the bearers of the seat narrate a different story. A story of sacrifice of material, monetary and time resources which they have no chance of regaining by any means. And many have to bear the mental turmoil of taking insults from the electorate; especially their political adversaries.
This is an electorate that only knows that they elected someone at the Ward level, and that leader should have money to implement projects. MCAs are in the eyes of the public the alphas and omegas of devolution and should be held accountable for everything because they were elected through a popular vote. This is why some have even called for an abolition of devolution; because an MCA didn’t splash lots of money in his ward, for development or otherwise.
Perhaps we should just accept that the concept of devolution and having an Executive and Legislative arm of County Government has not sunk in our minds after all these years. Maybe we’re still haunted by the ghosts of the defunct Local Authorities when there was no Executive or Legislature. Or maybe we just sunk too deep into politics that we dislike the idea of an Assembly trimming the powers of a Governor.
Whatever the issue might be with our society, I believe we just have to accept that devolution is here and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. The sooner we embrace the functions of the two arms of County Governments, the better. These are not the days that we assumed Councillors were an unruly and uneducated lot; we should learn that proper lawmaking is now taking place in the Assemblies.
But we cannot blame the public because actually the Assemblies may be dancing in the dark; doing a great job that nobody knows about. What is needed is a robust communications team to tell the public what the legislature is up to and collecting views of the public and informing the organization accordingly for necessary action.
However, you will find that most Assemblies have feeble or completely nonexistent Communications Departments which lack capacity in skills, equipment or budgetary allocations to succeed in mounting successful civic education, media advocacy or community sensitization campaigns. What should be a boon for legislatures then turns to a bane; an unwanted liability whose benefit is never seen.
Demystifying political shenanigans from the representation, oversight, and legislation that MCAs are supposed to do and pointing it out to the public is one herculean task, but one of us has to do the hard work. The public feeds on information; if there’s none coming to them, rumors will start and that is what will be believed.
As much as I don’t fancy being a Ward Representative, I find myself increasingly entangled in their core mandates and working hard to unravel the puzzle of the role of the County Assembly for the public to understand what these leaders are responsible for, their successes and their future endeavors.