Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dilemma of nationalist MPs and the reality of local politics

By AMWEL KUMBA skumba@ke.nationmedia.comPosted Saturday, February 26 2011 at 21:00
In Summary
  • The electorate tends to punish leaders perceived as being overly concerned with a national agenda at the expense of constituency needs

When Dr Bonny Khalwale lost his Ikolomani parliamentary seat through a petition two weeks ago, a number of Kenyans felt the quality of parliamentary debate and the watchdog role of MPs would not be the same.
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Dr Khalwale had distinguished himself as an avid debater and an MP who did not shy away from taking on powerful ministers whenever they were called to account for the conduct of their ministries.
Remember his role in forcing then Finance minister Amos Kimunya from the Cabinet over the Grand Regency sale scandal?
According to political observers, MPs have increasingly been finding themselves cornered by expectations of the people they are elected to represent.
And while Dr Khalwale was brought down through a court process, Kenya’s political landscape is littered with former MPs sacked by the electorate for failing to strike an acceptable balance between the expectations of their constituents and the national legislative agenda.
A close scrutiny of leaders whose departure from the National Assembly has a national impact may find that such leaders do not enjoy much support at the grassroots.
Indeed, this forms the basis through which some of them lose subsequent elections as the people they represent in Parliament feel their issues at the local level have been ignored at the expense of national politics.
Prof Winnie Mitullah, a researcher and political analyst at the University of Nairobi, says that in such circumstances when politicians concentrate on national issues at the expense of local problems, they end up losing locally.
“This is because it is unlikely that the issues at the national and local level are the same, although they overlap at times,” she said.
She reckons this could be part of the reason MPs like Joe Donde, Billow Kerrow, Muriuki Karue, Mwandawiro Mghanga and Mukhisa Kituyi did not retain their parliamentary seats.
And that could also be the reason Dr Khalwale may have to mount a tough battle to recapture his seat. In the minds of many Kenyans, Dr Khalwale was synonymous with taking on ministers who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Mr Donde, on the other hand, was famous for pushing through the “Donde Bill”, which became the “Donde Act” after its publication in the Kenya Gazette on August 7, 2001.
The Donde Act provided that there be an upper limit on the interest rate chargeable on all loans and advances from January 2001.
It also provided that the maximum interest chargeable shall not exceed the principal sum and that the section should only apply to loans and advances made or renewed after commencement of the Act.
According Prof Mitullah, one MP who has successfully managed to balance local and national politics, is Narc-Kenya leader and Gichugu MP Martha Karua.
“She is one such leader that even when she is right at the top and in the thick of things in the national arena, she finds time to monitor local developments,” said Prof Mitullah.
She also recalls that Lands minister James Orengo was rejected in the 2002 General Election because he was accused of having concentrated on national issues, such as expansion of political space during the Moi era, at the expense of local development.
However, former Kabete MP Paul Muite argues that the method used to assess leaders by the electorate is largely misguided.

Mr Muite says there is a pressing need for thorough civic education for people to realise that it is not the responsibility of an MP to tarmac their constituency’s roads, build schools and clinics, and attend to their basic needs.

“This is the work of the government, but the people down there do not connect it to that. An MP can only facilitate,” Mr Muite said.
He added that with the introduction of devolved funds, including the Constituency Development Fund, voter expectations should change.
The chairman of the department of political science at the University of Nairobi, Dr Adams Oloo, agrees.
“The perception in Kenya that MPs are supposed to deliver development was cultivated when people started promising these projects to get elected,” said Dr Oloo.
Financial provisions
Dr Oloo and Mr Muite agree that MPs are supposed to hold the government accountable as well as lobby it to make financial provisions for various projects in the areas they represent.
“That is why MPs are allowed to raise questions in Parliament to a specific ministry and find out why a particular project has stalled or why there are certain development projects haven’t been initiated,” said Dr Oloo.
He said elected leaders can keep touching base with the grassroots by delegating the responsibility. “They can delegate to the area councilors, their campaign manager or people running their CDFs.”
But Prof Mitullah argues that given Kenya’s political dynamic, voters will not forgive their leaders for not fixing a road even if they are busy shaping national politics.
Ideally, she said, councilors should address local politics, but they do not. “Some of them are not known locally. They are lowly regarded,” she says.
However, there is reprieve for MPs. In the new Constitution, ministers will not be elected politicians, which is expected to change the scenario.

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