Think about the guy in torn shirt

Senators speaking to journalists on the contentious revenue sharing formula.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In many places, money from the national government is the lifeline; without it, life becomes short and brutish.
  • And the victim is the poor guy in the village in his torn shirt.
  • Marginalised people are not just in Samburu and Wajir.

To understand poverty, get off the Mombasa-Nairobi Highway and drive through Kwale to South Coast. Around Shimba hills, the land is fertile and the vegetation lush.

Most of the rest of the way is harsh, dry and mostly unproductive; the soil produces so little and there is a sense of suffering hardiness, as if life is clinging on desperately.

I don’t know what crops are grown or what animals are kept in these parts but the last time I was there, five years ago, there seemed to be total, abject poverty. The only development I could see had something to do with the government: A school, maybe a CDF project.

In Kilifi, my adopted county, I have observed a phenomenon rare in other places: Landless families putting up dwellings on the roadside and eking out a living there. The folks are optimistic, perhaps even fatalistic, and faithfully till the land even if it produces little.

The poverty in many parts of the Coast will bring tears to your eyes; you will see children who do not go to school in this day and age. They are not many but they are there. And families without even that “dollar a day”. It is many times hopeless and heartbreaking.

The whole idea of devolution was to devolve government to a level where it can see all these issues in great, intimate detail and prioritise plans to solve those problems for the people. The more important idea was to send resources to the local level, so that the money could be me matched with the priorities identified.

Too little to go round

In many places, money from the national government is the lifeline; without it, life becomes short and brutish. The money generated at the local level is too little to go round and basic processes of life – education, health, security, jobs – must be supported long enough for the self-sustaining flame of economy to be ignited.

Now we are fighting about how those resources ought to be shared among counties. When we wrote a new constitution, we said the public finance system “shall promote an equitable society” and the way we use taxpayer’s money “shall promote the equitable development of the country”.

Since 2012, the formula used in the division of the national cake has relied on various parameters: A county’s population, its level of poverty, its size, how well the county has previously used funds and so on.

The Commission for Revenue Allocation has proposed to share some of the funds along sectoral lines so that agriculture, lands and so on are taken into consideration when the pot is being guillotined, to mix my images. A cry has gone up among people who want population given more weight, the so-called “one shilling, one vote” chorus by Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata. Then there are those who want the bigger consideration to land mass, the “one mile, one shilling” counter-argument.

After the Senate Finance report was tabled, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja proposed that Sh316.5 billion be retained as the baseline for the allocation as in the 2019-20 financial year and that any amount over and above that be shared along the lines suggested by CRA; that way, no county would lose any money.

But Meru Senator Mithika Linturi’s amendment proposed a reduction from Sakaja’s Sh316.5 billion to Sh270 billion, leaving Sh46.5 billion to be shared using the CRA formula.

Linturi’s amendment had the support of 25 senators, mainly from the counties that would have lost via the Finance Committee formula, while 20 senators rejected the amendment.

Another proposal on the table is by Nominated Senator Petronila Were’s, seeking to have the existing formula retained, to share out the Sh316.5 billion for the counties in this financial year and which will see the shelving of the CRA proposal. This will be discussed on Monday and will almost certainly carry the day.

Lousy leaders

The debate has, once more, exposed our underbelly: The arguments have been violently emotional and divisive and not enough effort has gone into bridging them. Shouldn’t we be trying to be fair and apply the constitutional principle?

A couple of things shine through. We really do have lousy leaders, some without the basic skills of negotiation, planning and managing of people and processes. Secondly, we are an incredibly selfish lot; we just want to get more stuff than others, even though we don’t deserve it.

 Thirdly, nearly everything is just about corruption; the money that goes to the counties does not necessarily end up with the people and those who are stealing want the reggae to keep playing.

And the victim is the poor guy in the village in his torn shirt. Marginalised people are not just in Samburu and Wajir. There are Kenyans in Nairobi who have no access to clean water, decent food or habitable shelter; they live like animals even as their leaders wear ridiculous designer clothes and run around the South of France.

All we need is the decency to strike a fair deal for that poor guy.