BY DANCAN MUHINDI
The dramatic arrest of Kitisuru Ward Councillor John Njenga Kinuthia by Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) investigators earlier this week (Tuesday October 5) on charges of soliciting a Sh650,000 from John Mbau allegedly to release the renewal of a land leasehold right, has once again cast an ugly spotlight on the Nairobi City Council and its infamous “kanjoras”.
The KTN coverage of the councillor\’s arrest and his rather candid remarks on camera alluding to the deeply entrenched cancer of corruption afflicting City Hall, astonished and equally amused many viewers. He confidently told the KACC officials that: “You are only trying but you cannot eliminate corruption here.”
This incident raises a very profound question on the future of the colourless Nairobi City Council and many other local authorities, especially in light of the new Constitution that now establishes County governments as the third-tire of governance and primary units of devolution. With many Kenyans excited about the prospects of improved resource management under the County governments, it’s important to ask ourselves whether these high expectations can realistically be achieved under the new governance structures.
In all likelihood, the County governments are expected to replace the grossly mismanaged and corrupt 175 local authorities. For the first time, local governments will be headed by a Governor directly elected by County voters after the next general elections. Voters will also elect Ward representatives to sit in the County assembly with an oversight mandate over the County government.
As things stand today, Municipal Mayors and Town Council Chairpersons are elected by their fellow Councillors during what can only be described as cloak and dagger affairs, frequently inundated by claims of bribery and chaotic scenes during the actual voting process. This will now change somewhat with Governor candidates appealing directly to the voters. The winning Governors are expected to nominate their executive committee or ‘cabinet’ from outside the assembly representatives.
On the face of it, this appears to be a very positive development. Unfortunately, I foresee a situation in the 2012 general elections where the current low calibre of civic leaders simply mutate into the new County assembly men and women. Going by what we’ve seen in the past, the hapless voter will thereafter continue to be fleeced by these pretenders to leadership.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s been lots of optimism carried in the mainstream media and popular discourse that Kenyans will now enjoy greater accountability at the grassroots as a result of the new constitutional structures. But I’m afraid these lofty hopes are seriously misplaced.
One of the biggest phenomenon standing in the way of these aspirations is the difficulty of electing well-educated, informed and professionally experienced assembly men and women to oversee the County governments. The low-quality leadership witnessed over many years in our local authorities has often been the result of the “three-piece” voting patterns that occur during the general elections.
I predict that the same phenomena will recur again in August 2012. And this time it will be more difficult for the voters to scrutinise aspiring candidates due to the high number of elective positions that will have to be filled in a single day. In addition to the President and Members of Parliament, voters will be expected to elect a Governor, Senator, a Woman Senator representative and County assembly representatives. These are six elections in a single day!
I call it a tragedy because we shall end up saddled with the same cast of cartoons who have completely messed up our local authorities in the past, now disguised and re-packaged under brand new titles of Assembly representatives. The only solution that can avert this looming electoral disaster is to segregate or delink the various elections so that voters can adequately scrutinise aspiring candidates at all levels.
For example, delinking the County level elections to a separate year from the general elections would have a remarkable and far reaching impact on the way voters make choices at the grassroots level of governance. Many Countries including our next door neighbour Tanzania, have been doing this for years.
More important, this approach would ensure that hooligans and goons who have nothing credible to offer voters at the Assembly, don’t get a chance to hide behind a Kibaki, Raila or Kalonzo election euphoria as happened in the 2007 elections. They would have to face the voters on their own merit.
Any apparent monetary savings made from holding one major general election every five years will be wiped out many times over by the above factors, even before the next general elections. If anyone doubts me, I would recommend an honest look at the performance history of our local authorities over the last 40 years.
(Dancan Muhindi is the Communications Officer, Financial Sector Deepening Trust Kenya)