Kenya: Counties Here to Stay But BBI Urges Formation of Regional Blocks

President Uhuru Kenyatta hugs Opposition leader Raila Odinga as his Deputy President William Ruto (right) and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka cheer them (file photo).
27 November 2019

Nairobi — In a surprise move, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force report recommends that all the 47 Counties and the 290 constituencies be retained, contrary to claims by politicians who have been misleading Kenyans that it was out to reduce the numbers.

A section of politicians had claimed that the Senator Yusuf Haji-led task force was to recommend the reduction of the counties and constituencies to help manage the wage bill, leading to threats from elected leaders who had vowed to shoot it down-particularly MCAs and MPs who feared theirs will be affected.

But the report, handed to President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday and set to be released to the public Wednesday, calls for measures to curb duplication of roles and subsequently wastage of funds without reducing counties or constituencies.

"Retain all the 47 counties but encourage and assist counties to form regional economic blocks," the report with many radical proposals suggests.

It also recommends an increase of resources to the countries, by at least 35 percent of the last audited accounts.

"Perhaps there is a way that the 47 Counties can be maintained as the focus of development implementation and the provision of services, while representation and legislation are undertaken in larger regional blocs," it states.

Changes in County leadership

The report also includes proposals on how to cure the challenge posed by governors who fail to appoint their deputies, like Nairobi County where Mike Sonko has not named his deputy for two years now.

Sonko's deputy Polycarp Igathe resigned soon after their win, citing frustrations from Sonko and has since moved back to the corporate world.

The 2010 constitution is not clear on how long a Governor should take to appoint a Deputy, after the office becomes vacant, either upon death, impeachment, resignation or Deputy Governor's assumption into the Governor's office.

The Supreme Court in March last year gave an advisory opinion, ruling that the office of the Deputy Governor ought not to remain vacant until the next General Election.

The court issued an advisory that a Governor has 14 days to nominate a person to the office after which the County Assembly, within 60 days, will vote to either reject or allow the individual to assume office.

In Nyeri, the office of the Deputy Governor fell vacant after Mutahi Kahiga assumed the office of the Governor following the death of Governor Wahome Gakuru through a road accident.

Kahiga later appointed Caroline Karugu to fill the vacant post.

The same case was in Bomet where the office of the Deputy Governor remained vacant after Hillary Barchok assumed office after the death of Joyce Laboso.

Barchok settled on Bomet County Assembly Speaker Shadrack Rotich as his deputy.

Health Service Commission

The report further proposes the transfer of health sector personnel elements from County governments to an independent Health Service Commission to enable the sharing of the very limited health experts.

County assemblies oversight mechanisms

Strengthen the oversight independence of County Assemblies by ensuring that the transmission and management of County Assembly budgets are insulated from arbitrary or politically motivated interference by County Executives; these processes should also be subjected to rigorous public finance management processes, it states.

New governments, it proposes, should complete the projects initiated by former governors by Treasury withholding funds for new projects unless old projects are completed.

"A Governor who wants to abandon an old project must formally communicate to the public credible reasons," the report suggests, in measures aimed at ensuring projects initiated by county governments are completed.

Counties also must grow the economic pie guided by a greater focus on being competitive in attracting their residents to be more entrepreneurial.

"They should develop Biashara mashinani in which there are high-priority efforts by every County to support local groups to develop businesses through partnerships," it suggests.

The County Government should ensure that small and emerging businesses are easy to start, and that they find it easy to navigate regulations and bureaucracy and to get their goods to market in a timely way.

Governance structure

The report proposes the creation of a Prime Minister's post and the seat of the Official Leader of Opposition who will be an ex-officio Member of Parliament and will be drawn from the second runner's up in the presidential election.

The Role of the Prime Minister

The Prime Minister shall have supervision and execution of the day-to-day functions and affairs of the Government. The Prime Minister shall be the Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly.

On the President's tasking, the Prime Minister will chair Cabinet sub-committees. In the exercise of his authority, the Prime Minister shall perform or cause to be performed any matter or matters which the President directs to be done.

The Prime Minister will continue to earn his or her salary as a Member of Parliament with no additional salary for the prime ministerial role.

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