, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 7 – A day after former Prime Minister Raila Odinga renewed his call for the formation of regional governments, Deputy President William Ruto has dismissed the proposal as “pedestrian and reckless.”
Ruto who was responding to a proposal by Odinga to have 14 regional governments in addition to the existing 47 counties said the move would only saddle the taxpayer with a huge public wage bill.
“In the face of harsh and stack realities, suggestions for the creation of other layers of government and bureaucracy is reckless. It is actually pedestrian and outrightly thoughtless,” he said on Thursday during the closing ceremony of the 6th Devolution Conference in Kirinyaga.
“The only plausible discussion in my honest opinion should be how to operationalize the Ward Development Fund as a way of entrenching devolution to the villages,” he added.
Ruto said the creation of regional governments would be retrogressive as the new structure would undermine gains made under devolution.
According to Ruto, Odinga’s assertion that some counties were not economically viable was anti-devolution.
“The success and future of devolution will not be determined by size or population but rather by creative, innovative and revolutionary leadership. The debate about size, groupings and mergers is a treacherous anti-devolution narrative that is simplistic and retrogressive,” the DP said.
He noted that up to 52 per cent of revenues were currently used to pay salaries and wages of government workers with an additional 30 per cent used in recurrent expenditure.
Odinga had while addressing the devolution conference on Wednesday described some of the counties under the current devolution system as uncompetitive due to population size and other related factors hence the need to form regional governments, which he said would be more economically viable.
“One of the facts we’re dealing with but hardly acknowledge is that a number of our counties as they are today are too tiny to compete and to marshal internal and external resources for development,” he said.
Odinga said some of the counties would do better if they were grouped into bigger entities.
In his remarks at the devolution conference, Odinga asked governors to use the much touted constitutional referendum to effect the changes.
“The creation of regional blocs is a logical response to dealing with the problem of economies of scale in enhancing the potential for development of counties. The Council of Governors should robustly consider and debate the need to formalize regionalism,” Odinga said.
He had said creation of regional blocs will in no way affect the existence of the 47 county governments saying they will coexist with the regional governments.
“Formalization of regionalism will not necessarily mean dismantling the counties as they are today. We have such a system in the US and some African countries and therefore nobody should stifle this debate for fear of change or merely political expedience,” the former premier said.
In his remarks on Thursday, Ruto also dismissed reports of bad blood between him and Odinga terming their constant wrangles as competition in a thriving democracy.
Ruto said that he had in fact worked closely with Odinga in supporting his quest to become Kenya’s President.
“Competition brings out the best in all of us and therefore nobody should be worried that I have a problem with the former Prime Minister. There’s no issue,” he affirmed.
Ruto said the current differences in opinions were part of a national discourse which should be encouraged in any democratic country.
“What we’re having is a national discourse and it is very healthy so that Kenyans can be exposed to ideas; so that good ideas can give way to better ideas, and better ideas to the best ideas,” he noted.
Ruto was responding to a request by Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana who called for a truce between him and the former premier, with the two having renewed political fights in recent weeks.
“We’ve listened to both of you (Ruto and Odinga) in various fora… many people wish that you have a second-generation handshake. That would be good for this country because we want real and total unity,” the Makueni Governor had implored.
Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka made a similar call saying unity was crucial for the development of the country.
He urged leaders to exercise restraint in a bid to safeguard national unity.
“I want to implore upon all of us especially the political leadership that to actualize the Big Four development agenda, we have to address issues with measured tones to ensure political calmness, harmony and tranquility,” Lusaka said.
“Even in the fight against corruption, let us be objective and not politicize it so that we bring the temperatures of this country down to be able to focus on what is ahead of us,” he added.