By Ahmed Haji:
The transformation of Gov. Nathif from a sharia compliant banker to a politician has not been a smooth adventure. This is because, there is a difference between running a public system and a private entity. The change has confirmed his status as rookie politician in an all-important office. His stint as the Governor of Garissa will be remembered as a learning journey for the governor. In other words, an intern governor.
But people who are desperate for a quick fix to myriad of pressing matters cannot wait for a governor who is learning on the job. What the people need is a ready from day one sort of a bloke. This opinion piece highlights the state of affairs in Garissa County under Gov. Nathif, a man many had hoped would inject a renewed sense of hope amid devolution. This was only hope; reality is a different story altogether.
Below is a snippet of the budget allocation and policy costings. The budgetary commitments have no policy outcomes. It is just money spent – No measureable outcomes on the ground. Where these monies have gone is not a mystery but your guess is as good as mine.
According to the Institute of Economic Affairs, Garissa County received a budgetary allocation Ksh4.5billion in the fiscal year 2013-14. Of this allocation, sixty eight (68) per cent about ksh3.327billion was spent on recurrent expenditure and paltry thirty two (32) per cent was spent on development projects which equals ksh1.571billion in the same financial year. But the actual spending on development and capital investment stood at 22%.
The specifics of departmental allocation read as follows. The county department of Infrastructure and public works was allocated ksh400million in the financial year 2013-14. On the same note, the county department of Water, Health and Sanitation was allocated ksh422million and was thus the biggest beneficiary. This allocations were set aside for developmental expenditures only. It is therefore inconceivable that the pressures of everyday living standard such as provision of clean water and adequate health facilities have not been addressed despite this huge financial commitments. The Institute further notes that in the fiscal year 2014-15, Garissa County was allocated ksh7.1billion.
Despite this huge expenditures and allocations, many people in the county continue to struggle in accessing basic services. Garissa town, which is the headquarters of the County government is still grappling with ongoing water crisis despite billion of shillings in allocation. And this grave indictment is not anecdotal but the empirical evidence is in the unpredictable, muddy and often dry taps across the entire town.
Likewise, my home town of Ijara sub-county continues to experience prevalent water crisis. The state of our health facilities are appalling. It is shameful and unacceptable that with revenue allocation in excess of ten billion shillings, people continue to live in a squalid conditions. If simple challenges like equipping health facilities with beds and pipped water to homes is a daunting task for this administration. When should we expect capital infrastructure like roads and bridges from Gov. Nathif and his government?
Before I go any further, I would be the first one to admit that the absolute abandonment by successive regimes will not and cannot be corrected within the first five years of new system of governance. But what the people expected from the new system are programs that aim to mitigate pressing needs in the areas such as access to clean water and health and school (urban and rural) facilities as well sanitation programs that reduce infectious diseases. However, that was only to be! What we are witnessing in Garissa is a perpetuation of negligence in the hands of our very own!
In an opinion piece I wrote in 2014 in the Star Newspaper publication, I stated that the people of North Eastern could no longer claim marginalisation as reason for lacking development. The simple reason underpinning this conviction was the dawn of devolved governance. Three and half years in the making, what does the evidence say about this new system? The evidence on the ground shows that devolution has not made any impact or where it is, the impact is negligible. Unfortunately, our very own is steering us to what is probably a new era of marginalisation. In a nutshell, there is and was no scintilla of truth to what he said and promised during the campaigns and his many diaspora PowerPoint sessions. I remember attending one of his PowerPoint session in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The man had impressive PowerPoint presentations of how he will turn Garissa into Cairo.
The way forward: or fast forward 2017
Election time is imminent again, our governor would be on and about making all sorts of lofty promises that he does not intend or does not have the capacity to deliver.
The message to the people is simple, vote. But voting alone is not a means by itself. Equally important is the ability to evaluate candidates. Gov. Nathif was a well presented candidate in 2013. He had no prior record in public service and this worked to his advantage. The ball game is different this time. He has a record in office – a bad record indeed.
The ultimate goal for the people is to make better and informed choices amongst the various candidates. When you approach electoral process from this perspective as opposed to clan driven approach; people often end up with a government that is responsive to the local needs. Everybody would agree with me that all they want is a good government, the question is: how do we get there? Setting lofty, long‐term goals is no doubt important, but there is much we can do in the short‐term. And this starts by electing responsible and capable people into public offices. Governor Nathif has fallen short on every scale of what a good government ought and looks like. The people cannot endure another five years of runaway corruption, obvious inefficiencies and incompetence. In a recent corruption index survey conducted by the EACC, Garissa County topped the list with 91.89% of the respondents confirming that their county government as corrupt. Stats don’t lie.
Radical electoral revolution is required in Garissa County if the people want a prosperous county. Moreover, ensuring that we elect the right individual is an important part of the covenant between government and its people. Once we accept this premise, the question is: how should we get there? Fortunately, the people of Garissa County will have an opportunity to pick a new governor in 2017. They should send unequivocal message to all and sundry. However, this is only practicable, if they vote out the incumbent county government. In doing so, they will be sending strong message to the incoming and any subsequent administration henceforth.
The election of Gov. Nathif into the important office of governor in Garissa County was not random and bizarre twist of fate. His election was pegged on the promise that he was an outsider from the political establishment and would therefore bring in a fresh aura of political and social change. The governor is certainly not that person. His leadership is toxic and terminal. A dud affair from its first day in office. His modus operandi in running the affairs of the county is one that is characterised by ineffectiveness, corruption and desire for the trappings of the office.
Thomas Jefferson once said “History, in general, only informs us of what bad government is” Now that we know what a bad government looks like. It is prime time to send the Nathif led administration on permanent and un-remunerated leave.
Devolution is promising but we ought to have the right people driving it.
Devolved government invariably involves a shift of power and control, and thus challenges accountability and performance management frameworks built around the more traditional centralised structures that we have been accustomed to over the last four decades. A key challenge is to find ways to support accountability, performance and public confidence. One simple approach is for the national government to move beyond revenue allocation and assume some oversight role. A good starter would be capacity building programs for Members of County Assembly (MCAs) in budgeting and budgetary analysis. This would enhance the ability of the county legislatures in holding the County Executive accountable as well being able to measure what county programs and policies are working. That way, good policies survive and bad policies are killed off using an incremental approach. This is a sound policy making mechanism.
There is one thing that I will never discount on the state of our new governance system and I will qualify this view; that devolution is noble. It is the best tool for addressing long years of marginalisation especially in places like Garissa and the rest of Norn Easter. It is an excellent tool to spur growth when policy is driven by commitments and plans. But we must have the right people driving this agenda.
Ahmed M. Haji is a Policy Analyst based in Canberra, Australia.