By Hon. Billow Kerrow
I do not hold brief for anyone; its my take on the current discourse on referendum to amend the Constitution. Some leaders have blamed financial burden or the ballooning budgeted expenditure as the primary reason to review it. Some political parties believe the national parliament and county assemblies sizes are to blame and should be downsized to save money. Yet, others believe devolution is the problem with county governments as the burden and hence proposals to reduce them. In short, its not the government but the Constitution that is being blame for our misery.
I find these arguments not only hollow and baseless, but grounded in ignorance.
Our national expenditure budget for 2018/19 is shs 3.1 trillion. Devolution, embodied in county governments allocations, receives shs 314 billion, which is 10% of total public expenditure. By comparison, South African government disburses 52.5% of its budget to provincial governments (like counties) and municipalities, and retains 47.8%. Nigeria’s federal government takes 52.6% of the national expenditure and disburses the balance of 47.4% to the states and local governments.
If we scrap devolution entirely without the national government assuming any additional responsibility as a result, the government expenditure will only reduce marginally to Kshs 2.79 trillion. However, in reality, if we scrap devolution it will have to take over most of the functions now devolved to counties, meaning there will be only a slight reduction relating to salaries and allowances of the county administration and assemblies, probably much less than Kshs 100 billion. Our national expenditure will then reduce from Kshs 3.1 trillion to Kshs 3.0 trillion! A worthless effort given the opportunity cost of the principles of, and raison d’etre for devolution!
Before the new Constitution, our national expenditure for 2010/11 was Kshs 998 billion, less than a third of the current figure. Seven years later, the budget has grown by over 300% to Kshs 3.1 trillion. Since 2010, the government has spent nearly shs 15 trillion, out of which just over Ksh 1.0 trillion has gone to counties. Yet, we devolved most government functions in health, agriculture, water, sanitation, roads, etc to the counties. It’s easy for government to mislead Kenyans. Devolution is not the problem; indeed it is the solution. If national government was handling all the devolved functions as it did before 2010, its budget would be much higher!
Parliament and County Assemblies combined have an expenditure budget of just over Kshs 60 billion, which is 2% of the total public expenditure. Scrapping the entire legislature, let alone reducing their size, would have neglible impact on budgets. Those calling for scrapping of women seats or nominated seats to save money are being penny wise and pound-foolish. Constitutional commissions and independent offices combined, aside from TSC, use just above sh 12 billion, including some of the most critical offices such as EACC, Auditor General and PSC. Scrapping them or reducing them is not the solution either. They are vital in the checks and balances of power.
Our burden is in the Executive that gobbles nearly 90% of the Kshs 3.1 trillion. By this time next year, Treasury will have raised the expenditure to close to nearly Kshs 4 trillion, most of it for the national Executive, largely to satisfy its crave for impulsive spending. It has opted to live large by failing to rationalize its role, eliminate wastage, curb inefficiencies and avoid duplication of functions devolved to counties. Approved Govt policies and development blueprints do not guide its actions. If Executive lived by the spirit and letter of the Constitution that they loathe, our expenditures would have been significantly lower. Blaming devolution, judiciary and legislature is seeing the speck in others eyes but not the log in yours!
A referendum on these matters is a weird misadventure!
Hon. Billow Kerrow is former Mandera County Senator.