Shame of belly politics in county governments taxation and budgeting

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Prior to Ghana’s independence; Kwame Nkrumah, the young Pan-Africanist would chant “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be added onto you.” Kenyans just got political kingdoms at county level.
On-going county revenue collection and budgeting processes should be giving us good news of ‘creative local development’ processes. In sober societies local governance has better understanding of local priorities than national governments. Our paradox is that of misplaced priorities.

There was zero public participation in budgeting process and more saw harsh taxation policies on the small businesses and poor small holder farmers. Wild counties have gone viral, allocating mammoth budget lines to entertainments, colossal travel budgets for unnecessary ‘sight-seeing’ foreign trips packaged as learning events, lavish cars and sumptuous housing amongst other trappings of power and greed. How do these local leaders expect Kenya to develop? Who, then will eradicate poverty and suffering from our homeland? They seem to think that China and the West will. What is being done is wicked malice, and boorish kick in the teeth of citizens wallowing in poverty. They are sabotaging national economy.

African leaders have always viewed the state’s power apparatus as avenue for wealth accumulation, through unorthodox, anarchic and militant means rather than responsibility to protect public resources.
Fighting a localised and devolved corruption is complicated than national scandals’ since local scandals are saturated with contextual complexities of illiteracy, self-aggrandisement, primitivity, sycophancy, nepotism, undiluted tribalism, classic clanism, ancient and primordial brotherhood that undermines development and good governance. Combating corruption is an arduous and complicated task, especially in a society where corruption is seen to be ‘there’ and not ‘here’; and ‘them’ not ‘us’ mentality. The county governance comes at a time when little is being seen of Kenya’s anticorruption agencies. The citizens must therefore become active societal watchdogs and national government has to be play big brother. Otherwise, serious financial scandals, kick-backs, corrupt procurements, mis-prioritisation is what awaits us.

If we can’t learn from western democracies; then China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam are examples of states in which officially prescribed law are used to extremely cut down corruption. In China powerful leaders who committed serious economic crimes have meet stiff sentences. One success of China’s ‘local Sunshine policy ’is in the Baimiao township, Bazhou district of Bazhong city, Sichuan province. The policy allowed publication of local government’s website in 2010. It showed particulars of government revenues, expenditure, salaries and benefits payments.

Did we elect county zombies? What do they think? Most of counties assembly decision makers have deprived skills and low technical capacities to handle the tasks we gave them. Some counties elected illiterates and the ill-bred to manage billions of shillings; some have never been in positions of responsibilities; a word like ‘good stewardship’ of public resources to them, is unheard of. Majority are first time budget handlers, green ignorant and baffled by the big cash they are handling. They see public money as nobody’s money. In serious societies strong checks and balances are used to cushion the public coffers from hovering financial vultures. Did we trust the greedy, covetous and the gluttonous? or they are just incompetent!

National government, senate, auditor general, civil society, media and citizens must brake county coffers from belly politics pursued by rogue, wild and lustful leaders in some of our counties. We must think small when dealing the small holder farmers and businesses. We are exiting the economic take off stage onto a dangerous development naivety. Unknown author once scribbled, ‘Politicians are like diapers. They need changing regularly and for the same reason.’

Cheruiyot Collins is a Nairobi based Policy Advocacy Adviser-CAFOD Horn and East Africa.

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