Why I disagree with Moses Kuria’s referendum dose

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By Eric Latiff

From the onset, let me declare that I fully agree with Gatundu South MP, Moses Kuria, when he says ‘Punda amechoka’ and that there is need to ‘punguza mzigo!’ with reference to Kenya’s governance structure and its associated wage bill and related costs.

Donkey-Load

I also agree with his general subscription that we need to restructure our representation for enhanced efficiency and financial prudence.

I, however, disagree with his specific dosage. Whereas Kuria proposes that this malaria would be cured by a 4-2-2-2 dose, I say we should take the bitter quinine pill on a 2-2-2-4 format.

This is what Hon. Kuria is advocating:
1. Amalgamate the 47 counties to 16, in line with the recently emerging county economic blocs.
2. He also proposes that we scrap the Senate
3. Scrap the Woman Representative seats
4. Abolish the 12 Nominated MP seats.
5. Rewrite the Constitution and do away with its much-acclaimed affirmative action two-third gender rule at the County Assembly and the national Parliament
And this is what Eric Latiff proposes:
1. Retain 47 counties and the current number of Wards (1,450)
2. Abolish the Senate
3. Abolish the single member constituencies (the current 290 MP constituencies)
4. Convert the current Senator seats (47) to be the new Parliamentary constituencies. This means that each county elects one MP – open to either gender.
5. Retain the 47 Woman Representative seats (47). This ensures that each county has at least one woman leader at the national level and removes the headache of meeting the constitutional gender threshold, unless (unlikely) more than 65 percent of counties elect two women each.

6. Retain the 12 Nominated MPs seats, strictly representing special interest groups (persons with disabilities and minority tribes but NOT gender or youth).

This means that our single chamber national legislature will comprise only 106 MPs. My 2-2-2-4 dose means that we have a lean representation at the national level and closer, higher, representation at the village level.

I base my argument on a few principals.

When an overwhelming majority said ‘Yes’ to the 2010 Constitution, they expressly sanctioned devolution of government as close to them as possible. People told Prof Yash Pal Ghai and Nzamba Kitonga that they did not want decisions about their local development to be delayed in Nairobi. They wanted a government that is responsive to their respective needs.

This is why county governments are designed with an executive and legislative arm. These governments are primarily supposed to think, eat, drink, breath local development. The civic wards are basically made up of a village or a small cluster of villages. The MCAs in these areas are almost household names. Their village mates know them, their homes, their relatives, their school mates, their in-laws etc. In short, an MCA is very well known to his/her constituents.

On the other hand, the national government is supposed to be looking at Kenya as a singular unit, seeing the same shade of colour when the eye falls on the southern-most part of Kenya in Kwale county to Turkana and Moyale in the north and everywhere in-between. The focus of the national legislators is therefore expected to be holistic – national budget, national policies, international treaties and everything that ensures Kenya grows as one unit, equitably.

We therefore don’t need many MPs because their focus isn’t localized. But we need many MCAs to address village-level needs. This is how we shall ensure accelerated development.

The Senate was created primarily to protect the interests of devolution at the national level. Whereas we cannot belittle the work that has been done by the current Senate, it is clear that some of the legislation they have been debating in their chamber could also be handled by the National Assembly. When it comes to auditing the county governments, the same can also be handled by a single chamber. This is why I propose that the 106 MPs of the new-look Parliament be allowed to take up the national task of ensuring that devolution is working and that county governments across the country are performing their tasks as the people of Kenya, through their laws, expect them to.

What about the question of a heavy burden of maintaining MCAs and County Executives? Well, let us review their pay and make sure it is in line with what our collective pocket can afford. The same should apply at the national assembly level because this time we don’t need an MP to keep travelling ‘back home’ every weekend. So – reduce their fuel allowances!

Yes, punda amechoka. Yes, we need to punguza mzigo. But let us not throw away the important pieces from our suitcase and be left with useless baggage.

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