Augustine Ruzindana

Some lessons for Uganda from devolution in Kenya

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By Augustine Ruzindana

Posted  Friday, April 5   2013 at  01:00

In Summary

For some time, the big constitutional issue has revolved around devolution and the largest component of the winning coalition were not exactly enthusiastic about devolution.

The Kenya elections are finally over and the analyses and lessons learned will follow for quite some time. One of the lessons that Uganda could pick is how the county governors will work with the commissioners appointed by the central government. Will it be like the endless Musisi/Lukwago power struggles in the Kenyan counties?

Already, there is a struggle as to whether governors can fly flags on their cars like ministers and whether the counties will formulate their budgets or whether funds will be remitted by the central government already itemised, thereby dictating how the money will be used.
For some time, the big constitutional issue has revolved around devolution and the largest component of the winning coalition were not exactly enthusiastic about devolution. Thus the role of the commissioners appointed by President Mwai Kibaki last year remains controversial.

Some governors want to occupy their offices and others do not accept them at all in their counties. To complicate matters, whereas Kenya is a multi-party democracy in the Nairobi-based central government, it is actually largely a single party system at the county level, except perhaps Nairobi city county.

Thus in the cities of Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu, the county assemblies are almost 100 per cent one party and so are the counties in Central, Rift Valley, Nyanza and Coast regions. The interpretation by the coalition in power of Article 6(2) of the constitution, which provides that “The governments at the national and county levels are distinct and inter-dependent and shall conduct their mutual relations on the basis of consultation and cooperation”, may cause serious political fights if it maintains a strong central government presence at the county level.

The other issue that may arise at the county level may be transparency and accountability systems. During the recent election petition hearing, one of the problems identified was poor procurement of voting kits in violation of procurement regulations.

In the counties, there are yet no procurement systems in place while the counties are going to handle huge sums of money with weak oversight because of the single-party system at county level.

This combination of systemic weaknesses creates lots of opportunities for corruption to occur. The counties controlled by the Cord Alliance of Raila Odinga and those controlled by United Republican Party (Vice President-elect William Ruto’s party) may resist supervision by the central government and even the intervention of the anti-corruption institutions may be resisted as it may also look like political intervention from the centre.

These types of situations are not unique to Kenya. For example, the corruption problem in Uganda is exacerbated by the fact that the system in place is virtually a one-party system.

If the institution of the Auditor General and Public Accounts in Parliament did not exist, all the thefts exposed post facto would remain a top secret. Also, the one-party system embedded in multi-party systems is widespread.

Take the celebrated case of Botswana: the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), the ruling party since independence, is based mainly among the largely rural Bamangwato majority ethnic group.

In fact, the first Botswana president and the current one have also been concurrently the paramount chief of the Bamangwato and in all the elections since independence, the BDP has maintained more than 80 per cent, sometimes more than 90 per cent, of the seats in Parliament. The fact that there are relatively low corruption levels is attributable to a small population where everyone that matters knows each other and any change in wealth and living standards will be immediately noticed and checked.

But with a bigger population and a political monopoly by one party, the ugly head of corruption will increasingly be visible. This applies to Namibia as well where SWAPO, based among the majority Ovambo, will stay in power indefinitely until most people move to towns and cities.

There is something intriguing about the now disowned Marriage and Divorce Bill. It was a government Bill and its owners are distancing themselves from it as if it a contagious disease. Why? Someone, a group can disagree with a clause or a section in the Bill, but to say that a whole Bill is rejected and the owners (government) go around cheering and blaming secondary stakeholders is the highest hypocrisy exhibited by its authors. It may not be surprising, since it happens often but it is reprehensible nevertheless.

Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP.

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