President Uhuru Kenyatta Thursday delegated ten “executive functions” to County Commissioners in a new move meant to make the commissioners stronger extensions of the national government in counties.
Addressing a gathering of civil servants in Nairobi, the President said the move was meant to “remove excuses” for ministries and government departments to deliver on their mandate.
“We are now giving responsibilities directly to those who are with the people so that the question of ‘we are waiting for orders from above’ no longer exists. There are no orders from above except the efficient delivery of service and you know the functions that you are supposed to be doing.
“And we are now giving you responsibilities to perform those functions and to deliver services to our people,” the President said.
But in a swift reaction, opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party criticised President Kenyatta’s decision as against devolution, terming it as a move towards authoritarian rule.
A statement by acting party leader Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o said the development was against the will of the people for local self governance.
“This development must not be allowed to succeed. It is tantamount to further increasing the wage bill, escalating constitutional crises and engendering unnecessary political tension in the country,” he said.
President Kenyatta’s move means County Commissioners will be the hands, eyes, ears and legs of the national government in coordinating diverse issues.
They may range from national immunisation programmes, county security operations in counties, national roads management, delivery of speeches of the President or Cabinet Secretaries and any other national functions delegated to them.
The commissioners will be in charge of all national government functions at the county level.
The President based his decision on Article 132 (3b) of the Constitution and Section 7 of the National Government Coordination Act 2013 which provide guidelines on how the president may coordinate and delegate functions.
But there could be problems.
A County Commissioner tasked with coordinating an immunisation programme for instance may fail if those medical items are not delivered in time…and that is a function of the Ministry of Health.
Yet President Kenyatta warned County Commissioners would take the bullet for that:
“It is not for you to tell me that is the work of Ministry of Health. Your responsibility in that county is to ensure that that programme has been rolled out,” he said by way of example.
Security officers traditionally do not take orders from civilians. President Kenyatta said county commissioners should be in charge of county security.
“If there are security challenges in your counties, yes, while the Inspector-General (David Kimaiyo) has the overall responsibility of internal security in this country…and if there is cattle rustling in Baringo County, I will be calling the County Commissioner of Baringo County and expecting to be told what you have done, because Kimaiyo is in Nairobi, you are the one who is responsible for what is going on.”
County Commissioners were remnants of the dreaded Provincial Administration during President Moi’s era.
Comprising the Sub Chief, Chief, District Officer, District Commissioner and the Provincial Commissioner, they served a security function at the regional level for the central government.
Some of them, however, were (in)famous for being involved in rigging elections, looting chickens from rural folk as forcible contribution to national development as well as raiding chang’aa dens for drunkards.
The Constitution passed in 2010 effectively made that obsolete although the government had a grace period to turn them into a system adapted to devolution.
These changes, though, start with ministries in Nairobi and President Kenyatta told civil servants every manager in government will bear their cross.
“There are no reasons for excuses. You must know what is going on in your ministry. Where authority is given, it comes with responsibility,” he told Cabinet Secretaries in the crowd.
Traditionally, ministers have often delegated both blame and responsibilities to their juniors whenever claims of mismanagement arise.
President Kenyatta told the gathering the Cabinet Secretaries will now be heads at all times. However, while he gave them powers, he took away their potential to become dictators.
“You are not supposed to use this authority either to victimise or abuse those who work under you….severest of sanctions shall be taken against those who take unfair actions on their juniors.”