Saturday, 23 March 2013

Key decisions in public interest hostage to transition delays

Mukhisa Kituyi. Photo/FILE
Mukhisa Kituyi. Photo/FILE 
Posted  Saturday, March 23  2013 at  18:52
The transition to a post-Kibaki era is posing a number of challenges to Kenya. At one level is a constitutional transition whose statutory tool kit remains incomplete and thus allows space for tentative solutions often arrived at by the rule of thumb; with significant scope for manipulation.At another level are critical matters of government which have in the past been managed by arbitrary pronouncements; but cannot quite be run in such a way in the period of power transfer.Our Constitution sets out in substantial detail the steps to be followed after an election. While it clearly anticipated litigation in the event of a disputed result, it has a number of gaps which are glaring. Three gaps come to mind.The road map to devolved government remains incomplete as power games that played out in the past rear their heads again.The role and discretion of a president-elect while his victory is being contested in court remains unclear even as his opponents call a truce to their public rallies. Some matters requiring urgent attention are hostage to transition.

The past week has witnessed many cases of conflict between in-coming county governments and elements of provincial administration. While the first shots have been about appropriation of office and residential quarters, more substantive territorial battles are in the offing.The underlying debate about the role of provincial administration in a devolved system has never quite been exhausted. Mere declarations that the law allows for provincial administration to remain and find new relevance remain inadequate.The chairman of the Transition Authority (TA), Mr Kinuthia Wamwangi, is a good man being made to sort out a bad crisis. The law allows him limited space to be a fire fighter in unresolved institutional confrontations.By disguising the old turf wars as a teething problem, we are grounding the Transition Authority in confrontations that cannot be resolved administratively. We take from them the energy they sorely need to help break in the new system of government.There appears a clear shift in donor thinking that governance support to Kenya must now focus the implementation of devolution. Yet in the absence of a clear navigation route to devolved government and concrete steps in power transfer, the areas of engagement within new units of government remain subdued. Similarly, the extended wait in establishing government is holding up decisions that are critical for the country funding frame for the different partners.

About a decade ago, Namibia had the problem of how to retire a popular president who had served out his two terms. Since nobody had anticipated what to do with a retired President Sam Nujoma, the political class extended his tenure while cushioning the title of former president.In Kenya, we have a different challenge. We have institutionalised former presidency with a lucrative pension. We have learnt how to give the tenants of that title a polite hearing as we escort them into benign irrelevance.Where we remain inadequate, is what to do with a president-elect. In all our debates and musings, we never anticipated a situation where a person is declared president-elect, is given all the security and recognition that come with the office, is naturally the top focus of attention by all manner of lobby and interest groups imaginable, and yet has no terms of reference for what to do. We expected this to be a brief transition station, but now it is an extended holding ground for Uhuru Kenyatta.When he gives assurance that he means well for every one, he sounds like a statesman doing the right thing. But this puts his opponents in a bind. While they cannot criticise him for what he is saying, they cannot bear a similar message as he.They begrudge him the media coverage which can play in his favour in the event of a re-run, yet they have to keep the peace. The truce induced by urgings not to hold rallies that may be seen as inciting is just that: a truce.

One area where the transition blues are hurting the country is the management of pricing policy for farm inputs. As the main planting season gets under way, a new problem is festering. Kenya has no long-term policy on farm subsidy.Traditionally the president or minister for Agriculture declares an arbitrary price for these products before the start of planting season. But because this is a political decision often made with an eye on future popularity, we find ourselves in a bind.Kibaki as a retiring president has no incentive to invest in future popularity. And he cannot promise public subsidies to be implemented by his successor. He announced money to be availed for fertiliser imports rather late without any indication about pricing.Kenyatta cannot fix any problem however urgent until he is sworn into office. The consequence is a lacuna in decision-making and political responsibility for an urgent matter whose ramifications will only be felt later in the year.
Dr Kituyi is a director with the Kenya Institute of Governance

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