• Irungu Houghton

Holding governors to account and participating only way to stop state capture

Updated: Sep 3


Photo credit: Capital FM

In colourful ceremonies across the country, 45 very diverse governors were sworn in on Thursday. They will lead the third generation of county governments and justifiably, public expectations are high. Given rising living costs, concerns with inequalities and state capture, what must we demand of them?


Over the last decade, the promise and transformative power of devolved governance has become clearer for many Kenyans. Where county governments have been a match for the fourteen functions contained in the fourth schedule of our constitution, we have seen tremendous victories against the right to health, food, and livelihoods. Where they have not, sleaze, mismanagement and wastage has triggered repeated cycles of arrests and the conversion of county offices into crime scenes.


Devolution is central to an open, democratic, and prosperous nation. As the lowest unit of governance, respect for human safety and dignity is best experienced here. It is here citizens enjoy the freedom to think, speak, and hold the state accountable. Being equal under the law does not hover in some national space but in the counties and wards we live, work, and play in.


Unless we can de-clog county governments of corruption, devolution will never drive economic freedom and prosperity for our homes and hustles. Like the last, county governments will remain incapable of transforming economic inequalities and social instability.


Watching the ceremonies this week left me present to the age, gender, and professional diversity of our 47 county governors. Most ran on economic policy manifestos that emphasised jobs for the youth, reduced taxes and levies, agricultural and livestock development and health. Some also committed to further devolve services to ward levels (Kangata, Murang’a), reducing the wage bill to 35 per cent of revenue generated (Nyaribo, Nyamira) and eliminate violence against women and girls (Achani, Kilifi).


Meeting these manifesto promises will be critical for re-election. Unlike Governor Mutei of Kericho or Governor Rotich of Elgeyo Marakwet who secured over 90 per cent of the votes, many incoming governors were elected with a mandate of less than 50 per cent. These governors will have to do most to translate their right to govern into a second term.


Recent advisories must sharpen the focus of the incoming governors. The 47 county executives and assemblies must first audit and settle 140 billion shillings worth of pending bills according to the Public Finance Management Act (2015). 70 per cent of these bills may be ineligible for settlement as they were incurred irregularly or without clear documents. Among the counties with the highest debts are Nairobi, Kiambu and Mombasa.


In this context, the attention paid to the price tags of the ceremonies this week was very justified. Initial budgets ranged from Ksh 20 to 12 to 5 million for Nairobi, Siaya and Nyeri respectively. Kudos to Migori Governor Arati who slashed his costs from Ksh 57 to Ksh 3 million as well as Kirinyaga Governor Waiguru and Meru Governor Mwangaza who requested only Ksh 250,000 for their events.


Given the very limited public finances available, citizens must immediately engage their Governors on their priorities and spending patterns. Left alone, some Governors may be tempted to strip public taxes to pay off county assemblies, media, civic and business organisations, the criminal justice system and eat the rest.


In less than one month, the public has an opportunity to participate in budget-making. By law, county governments must release draft County Development Plans for public consultation by 1 September. By 30 September, the county government must prepare the County Budget Review and Outlook Paper as the first step towards the Fiscal Strategy Paper in February. Citizens, civic organisations, and state officers need to become more familiar with the County Government Act, Public Finance Management Act and the Urban Areas and Cities Act among others. We also need to put forward citizens to serve on the county boards.


State capture was not just a campaign slur to throw at opponents. It remains the biggest threat to our economy and dual layered state.


This opinion was published in the weekly Saturday Standard column 27 August 2022 #StandardSettingKE