Campaigns are truly on and while most attention is focused on the presidency, voters will be well advised to pay equal or even more attention to the persons closest to them in the electoral ladder – the member of county assembly (MCA). The reason is simple. That is the person that is closely in touch with your life and has the capacity to have a great impact on it.
In more democratically advanced countries, people’s representatives at the council/ward level are the most critical because they live and interact with the people, understand their problems and in the process can work through solutions together. These representatives even know most of their constituents by name. Unlike many of our MCAs, these are people highly attuned to the factors that most directly influence the lives of their voters.
The ubiquitous funeral
I am talking here of people with the capacity to understand and explain to wananchi why they are leading the unfulfilling lives that they are. Basic competence demands that leaders see cause and effect and generally build scenarios into the future. An example. I spent some time these past two weeks in the rural areas and attended a couple of functions, including the ubiquitous funeral.
At one social event, I discussed a WhatsApp post I saw that was uncomplimentary of the local MCA because of his alleged apathy and lack of concern that a school structure that was to be fully funded by the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) had stalled, although the MCA had promised to ensure that it was completed on time. Some comments were highly critical while others were benign, excusing the lapse on the fact that the MCA does not control the CDF.
I explained to them that it did not matter that he did not control the CDF, as he indeed did not control policy that determined whether the local dispensary had medicine, or the one that defines the school syllabus. It is still his responsibility to follow up on issues that directly affect the electorate that voted for him and try to resolve issues that affect his voters.
An incomplete classroom in a school where children are crammed in very tight spaces is unacceptable because it is not for lack of funds. It mattered a great deal that he did not seem to care very much in spite of the concern.
At the funeral in Kisii, I listened to the area chief lament that the community’s future was threatened because alcohol and drugs were destroying boys and girls, whose only interest in the dazed stupor was playing cards all day long! His solution was to tell already desperate and tired parents to ensure that the youth are kept busy or they would be arrested. After he spoke, the aspiring area MCAs were paraded to introduce themselves and “contribute something”.
The only message that the aspirants had was that they would work hard to deliver services to the people. What services? These could rather remain amorphous and undefined. It is hard to pin down someone for not delivering what he/she did not promise!
The chief did warn listeners though that they should be aware that the handouts the aspirants give were a debt to be repaid from resources that should go into roads, hospitals, schools, etc.! The point I am making is simple. It is time that voters realised that they elect representatives that are very well paid and fully supported to be effective.
These people are expected to understand how policy set at the national level impacts people at the county and ward level. They are required to know what priorities their people have or should have and help them achieve these through local initiatives, through sponsored efforts or through direct investments.
These MCAs make laws at the county level hence they must understand the process and the impact this has on the people. More importantly, they must have an agenda that drives their politics.
There is so much to worry about now – environment and climate, youth and employment, minority interests, empowerment, food security and the usual suspects of health and education.
It is clear that the MCA level of representation is generally very ineffective because they have no agenda and no one is requiring one of them. They are easy prey for governors and MPs looking for mouthpieces to sing their praises and make up agendas in the county assemblies.
It is yet another tragedy that such a critical resource is so underused and unappreciated by both the candidates and the intended benefactors. We remain politically ever poorer for being so wasteful, so myopic, so nonchalant.
The writer, a former Editor-in-Chief of Nation Media Group, is now consulting. [email protected]; @TMshindi