Opinion:We must safeguard oversight role in county assemblies

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By Faith Lukosi

The promulgation of the 2010 Constitution gave Kenyans a new lease of life as it brought power closer to the people in terms of resource allocation.

The new dispensation gave birth to 47 devolved units charged with the sole responsibility of serving respective residents to supplement efforts by the national government.

World over, where there is a properly functioning government, there exist oversight organs to provide checks and balances. This is usually done through the legislative functions in Parliament.

The parliamentary oversight function is one of the cornerstones of democracy. Oversight is a means for holding the executive accountable for its actions and ensuring it implements policies in accordance with the law.

The robust monitoring of the executive by Parliament is an indicator of good governance. Besides Parliament’s legislative function, it is through oversight that Parliament can ensure a balance of power and assert its role as the defender of people’s interests.

In both long-established and new democracies, Parliament is given the power to oversee the government through a number of tools and mechanisms. Typically, these tools and mechanisms are outlined in the constitution and other regulatory texts such as the Parliament’s internal procedures.

In Kenya, we have witnessed the parliamentary oversight system evolve over the years and it is worth noting that we have made tremendous progress as a country. From the dictatorial executive policy making processes that were the order of the day before the promulgation of the new constitution to the almost tolerant gestures from the national government, we can expressly figure out legislators have remained an integral part in the development agenda of this country.

It is worth noting that the specifics of how a parliament can utilize its oversight prerogative depends upon the existence of a legal framework, which consolidates the position of Parliament as an oversight institution and guarantees its powers and independence within the political system.

Thus, while reforming the structure of the political system to increase a Parliament’s constitutionally given oversight capacities may not always be feasible, in some instances, Parliaments can improve their oversight capacities by reforming their own rules. For example, a good practice for committee systems is the practice of assigning each committee to directly oversight a corresponding government ministry.

The parliamentary budget permitting, such reforms are usually within the powers of the parliament to implement.

However, we must admit that the parliamentary oversight role in our counties is, despite gradually getting better, facing myriad of challenges that ought to be addressed with sobriety.

The executive wing of every county government must adapt to the constitutional regulations that give assemblies the power to independently oversight and make clean reports devoid of intimidation and mudslinging.

The county governments are receiving 15 percent of the national budget in equitable allocations. This means that members of county assemblies have a critical role to play in ensuring that these funds are efficiently utilized.

While it is prudent that both the executive and the legislative arm find a way of working together to implement the development agenda of the government of the day, we must realize the need to respect the independence of each wing.

The role of leaders in the assemblies must strictly be about representing the needs, views and desires of the people through effective ovesighting. An assessment of the gains made so far points to a positive trend but we must be careful enough not to quickly erase the gains.

The executive must be willing to be tolerant and ready to dialogue where possible to advance its key pillars of development. A continued engagement between these two arms will always be good for the citizens as long as clear lines of operations are marked out and observed.

The ugly standoff that we have witnessed between the executive and the assembly in counties like Taita Taveta and Nairobi, is a perfect example of how failure to dialogue can paralyze operations of a county. When individual political whims take center stage, systems of governance and service delivery stall.

It is clear that our county assemblies to some extent still need capacity building to advance this critical role but these are elements and ingredients that will, with time, be instilled with proper planning.

It is upon all Kenyans of goodwill to believe in county assemblies and accord them the necessary support and together, the devolved units will deliver

The writer is the youth senate leader and a governance expert

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