TEN STICKY ISSUES IN THE REFERENDUM DEBATE
1. Is it the right time for the referendum?
The constitution does not stipulate when to hold a referendum. However, it provides a referendum as the ultimate recourse whenever there are certain constitutional issues that need to be addressed. The right time for a referendum is that dependent on Kenyans. If we decide that this is the right time, then it is the right time. What is required is that the stipulated procedure be followed. I suspect the governors and CORD are following the procedure diligently and there are as many Kenyans who believe the time is right. On a personal note, I wish we were spared the electioneering shenanigans that come with referendum so that leaders focus on delivering their promises to Kenyans.
2. What are the real issues to be addressed through referendum?
There are a plethora of issues that have been raised both by the Pesa Mashinani and Okoa Kenya initiatives. Key among them is increasing county allocation and enshrining it in the constitution so devolved funds is no longer a carrot to be used by national governments. There are other issues to do with strengthening senate, inequality in Kenya, security, IEBC etc.
Personally, I think most of the issues being raised are valid national concerns but only a limited number are constitutional issues. Issues of Inequality in Kenya have already been addressed by the constitution through stipulations on appointments and resource allocation. Hopefully, the referendum bill will particularly address composition of any state office or committee. One third of cabinet, any committee, office, board, commission or authority benefiting from tax payers contributions ought not to be from same ethnic group.
3. Aren’t there other avenues for addressing such issues?
There are many avenues for dealing with some issues, especially those raised by the CORD coalition. On some, all that is required is advocacy, on others legislation through parliament and senate and on other legal action in the courts would suffice. However, on some of the issues, only a referendum will settle them once and for all.
For me, an issue like Pesa Mashinani is best handled constitutionally; let the rationalization of functions and corresponding fund allocations be enshrined in the constitution. This will create proper county autonomy. Equally, issues of date of elections, Issues of 50+1 in election of president, number of elected and nominated legislators, separation of powers and protocol between national assembly and senate ought to be resolved once and for all through the referendum.
4. Are there enough funds for the referendum exercise?
I think treasury has not indicated that Kenya is nearly bankrupt. We seem to be doing well going by our spending on projects like lap top for children (that are not a priority according to education sector players). Recent generous donations to West African countries shows that we might be having some more to spare! IEBC says it is ready for the referendum, an indicator that funding is not an issue.
5. Will counties absorb the extra cash?
The counties have key functions like health, agriculture and roads just as national government has education and security. The funds go to the counties with the functions. The counties have to account for the money. As long as they are disbursed on time, counties will definitely absorb the money albeit with the usual challenges that national government agencies have often experienced. When the funds are taken to the grassroots, absorption rates will improve with time and even surpass normal national absorption rates.
6. Do the counties have the structures?
Most counties are now fully constituted. Additionally, the national structures are being absorbed by counties on devolution. For instant, the health sector does not need much restructuring to absorb funds. Just as agricultural ministry used to disburse funds to grassroots offices, the grassroots offices will now be under counties; these are structures that exist and restructuring is an ongoing process.
7. Do the counties have legal and policy frameworks?
If the functions have already been implemented, money does not follow policy, money should follow functions. The counties have national policy frameworks to customize to county setting. Hopefully, the strategic plans and integrated plans at the county level have provided meaningful policy directions. If not, to develop such structures and capacity funds are necessary. Asking whether counties have necessary policies and frameworks is applying double standards. The national government does not stop collecting taxes till when it revises or puts in place legal and policy frameworks. Development of policy and legal frameworks is a going concern.
8. How about accountability in our counties?
There are clear accountability mechanisms for money sent to counties. Accountability issues do not affect counties only; even national government has its own accountability challenges. Mega scandals have happened at national level. Existence of accountability measures is not the criteria for devolving funds. What matters is, have the functions been devolved? Then debate should be on how much funds should we send to counties if we have devolved roads, agriculture and health care functions? Moreover, citizen responsibility in holding leaders accountable is what we should focus on. How are we as citizens participating in processes that would ensure accountable and transparent service delivery at the grassroots?
9. Will the referendum lead to higher taxes?
The funds are going with the functions, thus we do not need to collect any more funds to devolve more funds. Taxes will only be raised if national government hoards money for corrupt purposes.
10. Is the referendum about Raila?
Raila is at the centre of the OKOA KENYA referendum push. As a political process, Raila is engaging in the referendum push to gain some political mileage. However, are there genuine issues that warranty a referendum? There are quite a number of issues that many would love to see ironed out. Is it wrong that Raila is taking advantage and riding on those issues? It is only wrong to the extent we do not want political contestations or competition. But, it is Raila’s political right to use national issues to pursue his political agenda. So to the extent the issues are genuine, those who oppose the referendum are also driven by a political agenda; which is about Raila not having a say in national politics. If his say is valid, then why don’t we let him follow the due process? If majority of Kenyans are not interested in his antics, the referendum push will fail and Raila will be shamed.