Wycliffe Muga: Governor is the hot seat in devolution - The Star

The word gubernatorial is one which you may expect to see used very often in the near future.
It is an adjective which means of or pertaining to a governor. With every Tom, Dick and Harry dreaming of occupying a governor's mansion, the kind of writer who likes to make reference to President Kibaki's gentlemanly mien or to the mammoth crowds that turn up at Prime Minister Raila Odinga's campaign rallies will soon have a new word to play with.

More seriously, the fact that the country is moving into uncharted electoral waters should give us all cause for thought. So far, debate on the new electoral offices has focused largely on the question of why all these old men whom we thought had retired from politics, have suddenly resurrected their political ambitions, and resolved to serve the nation as senators.

Such views overlook the fact that in all democracies, senators are often old men, and often much older than any of our current lot of senatorial aspirants.

In the US, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina served in the Senate from 1956 to 2003, and retired as the only senator to reach the age of 100 while still in office.

You would think that the 47 years he was senator would also make him the longest serving senator in US history. But in fact, that title goes to Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who served in the Senate from 1959 to 2010. He died in June this year, at age 92, while still a senator having been one for 51 years.

Nor is great age the only thing commonly found in senates all over the world. Some democracies have instituted lifetime tenure for some members of the senate, or whatever body they have that is equivalent to a senate.

To quote one source: A senator-for-life is a member of the senate or equivalent upper chamber of a legislature who has life tenure. As of 2010 [update], seven Italian senators out of 322, four out of the 47 Burundian senators and all members of the British House of Lords have lifetime tenure. Several South American countries once granted lifetime membership to former presidents but have since abolished the practice.

And no doubt there are those among President Kibaki's most dedicated supporters who now wonder how on earth they left out a clause in the recently promulgated constitution, which would have enabled the President to spend the rest of his life in the Senate, without having to bother about the nuisance of re-election campaigns.

One more thing we can learn from the US example: these complaints we have heard about how some regions will have more MPs for each senator, while in others there will be very few MPs for each senator or governor, have no basis at all.

No country has yet found a perfect formula for the ratio of MPs to senators to governors; and there will always be some irrational outcome from the attempt to provide adequate representation at every level of government.

In the US, each of the states gets two senators, and there is a 100-member Senate. But when it comes to the House of Representatives (where the congressmen serve) the basis of calculating the numbers is that the 435 seats must be divided equally on the basis of population.

And so you find that a large state like California has two senators and 53 congressmen; while a small state like Delaware has only one congressman (based on its population) but nonetheless has two senators.

We must therefore accept that there will always be dis-satisfaction about the varying levels of representation resulting from a two-chamber legislature.

That depending on whether you focus on geography or on populations, there will always be regions that will appear to have benefited at the expense of others. And there will always be plenty of old guys in the senate.

But what should be of far more concern to most of us, and what will certainly touch our individual lives in a far more direct manner, is the question of who gets to be a governor.

For this will be a man or woman who with barely any serious oversight institutions looking over his or her shoulder, will be in charge of a budget of some Sh3 billion for the county.

And while admittedly much of that money will go to pay salaries and other recurrent expenses, there will be plenty of room for development expenditure which has traditionally been the focus of huge rip-offs in Kenya.

So the question is, will each county really be able to find a man or a woman who can be relied on to spend Sh3 billion annually, in ways that will provide long-term benefits to the ordinary people?

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