The 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference
"ETHICAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT"
ETHICAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished audience, ladies and gentlemen
I feel greatly honoured to have been invited to participate as one of five international panellists in a session devoted to "Ethical Local Government" at this Conference. This is a subject very close to my heart and I have as a result gained a measure of notoriety in my home country Kenya for having charted out a course and paving the way for a transparent and accountable system of Local Administration as the Mayor of Mombasa. What happened to me is a testimony of the extent of corruption that has permeated Local Authorities.
True democracy starts and ends with local government whichever way one looks at it. The status of the Local Authorities also reflects on the status of the Central Government. Consequently if Local Authorities are poorly managed, corrupt and ineffective then the Central Government will invariably display similar traits.
I was elected Mayor of Mombasa in early 1998 and I resigned on a matter of principle from office in early 1999. Notwithstanding the short duration of being a Mayor I believe I had amassed substantial experience on urban governance from my active involvement in the Management of the Local Authority. Within this short period of introducing responsible transparent and accountable management I was able to light the candle of hope and the sense of pride amongst the residents of Mombasa whom had but given up. In return for all my efforts and sacrifice I was hounded out of office because of my steadfast refusal to be compromised. Initially I was patient and diplomatic and believed in my self and in my vision to transform and effect changes at the local level. However as time progressed, frustration and character assassination continued un-abated, the message was quite clear "the System" was not ready for responsive governance. I concluded that patience is passive, resignation is active and I therefore called it a day.
A cursory visit to any of the Local Government Authorities Offices in my country is a lesson in just how badly corruption has been allowed to set in almost all the country's Local Administration whose justification for existence seems to have been lost as soon as they were set up. However, most of Kenya's urban centres have witnessed a dramatic growth in population but there has not been any remarkable growth in capacity of Local Authorities to effectively respond to emerging challenges with regard to service delivery and managing urban growth and development.
No wonder many Kenyans would be more than happy to see the abolition of most of the authorities because councillors are more concerned with grabbing of land, kick backs from briefcase suppliers and pursuing their own selfish interests rather than delivering any services. The up-shot of all this is that:
I can confidently state that there is no Local Authority in Kenya which pays its workers on time and all of them are indebted to workers as they deduct certain statutory deductions from the workers emoluments but yet fail to remit these as appropriate. Currently, all that workers need are powerful political godfathers as protectors, this leads to corruption and nepotism;
Local Authorities are presently engaged in a destructive battle for power that is eroding the capacity of its councillors to manage their own affairs for the common good of their constituents.
Anarchic situation prevails in most Local Authorities; The central Government exerts control over Local Authorities through the appointment of Chief Officers such as Town Clerks, Town Treasurers, Chief Engineers etc and other controls introduced through the Local Government (Amendment) Act of 1984.
Through a combination of legal and extra legal means and manipulation, the Central Government virtually paralyse the operations of most Local Authorities -For example the Kenya Government condemned the Nairobi Action Plan in 1993 and prevented its implementation. There is apathy among the citizens owing to lack of awareness. This is because of lack of deliberate efforts/mechanism of empowering the citizens through civic education and promoting access to information which is often be termed as "classified".
Poem extracted from the book' Pity the Nation'
Given the foregoing scenario on Local Government performance, can it be described as ethical? Does the scenario reflect a lack of capacity to effectively govern and manage the urban development process. It is a reflection of lack of vision and therefore lack of a driving force for the council leadership and bureaucrats.
Overall, it is safe to attribute the current situation to characteristics of Local Government institutions, that are not responsive to public demands (wishes), and where the wishes of council politicians and bureaucrats carry the day at the expense of the tax payer and the poor voter.
As we approach the new millennium, I am sad to report that there is very little we can show to be proud of and to quote one of our prominent African Writer - Chinua Achebe's famous novel title "Things fall Apart" is an apt description of the current status of our Local Authorities.
In my view, the challenges facing African Local Authorities is to address and resolve the following fundamental issues: