Johnson Osoi has been the Speaker of the County Assembly of Kajiado since the advent of devolution in 2013. In this bare-all interview, he recounts how Governor Joseph ole Lenku frustrated the County Assembly in order to weaken its oversight role over his administration.
What would you wish that people should remember you for, considering you have been the Speaker for the past 10 years?
I think I will be remembered for laying a very strong foundation, bearing in mind the fact that I took over from the local authorities, the county councils that were at the time established by an Act of Parliament. They had challenges in the budget and their powers were limited in terms of law-making to simply bylaws.
I took over in 2013 and started with a strategic plan that was anchored on three pillars. First was the infrastructure of the County Assembly. We started from dilapidated structures. Today, I leave behind a respectable debate chamber, the Speaker’s chamber, defined legislative precincts, and incomplete chamber and office blocks. Construction is ongoing and the new facilities will have MCAs’ offices, staff offices, a debate chamber, parking lot, cafeteria, a library, and so on — similar to what you see in Parliament. I have also done a Speaker’s residence; the Speaker who takes over from me will immediately move into a new residence.
The second pillar is human resource. I have one of the most competent County Assembly services. I recruited locals from Kajiado on the basis of meritocracy and then went ahead to train them both locally and internationally. So, I have very competent staff who are the institutional memory of Kajiado County. It doesn’t matter what kind of politicians come; the system is strong enough to sustain the rule of law.
Last, I did capacity building for the members of the first Assembly, the second Assembly, and staff. Kajiado has consistently been voted the best Assembly in the republic, and I have been voted twice as the best Speaker in Kenya.
Having been voted the best Speaker, it is then surprising that there was an attempt to impeach you. Looking back, do you think that there were shortcomings on your part that led to this attempt?
I wish you could ask the sponsors of that motion what the basis was. It was — and this is a position that I hold to date — that Governor [Joseph ole] Lenku is not friendly to being oversighted. Anyone who oversights the executive and who says that things are not being done lawfully or procedurally becomes an enemy of Lenku’s government.
I did not agree with what was called the scorecard. The last one was held in Kiserian and allegedly spent Ksh22 million; I said “no” to it and did not attend. This was the basis for the governor to be mad with me and he started an impeachment process. I thought that money could be spent better elsewhere.
Further, during the impeachment, they went to EACC (the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission). They went to other agencies, but I wasn’t found to be culpable.
Towards the end of the last administration, a bridge built at an estimated cost of Ksh100 million collapsed unexplainably within days of being launched. This was not raised at the County Assembly and there was no accountability in terms of grilling of the governor or anyone else. Why was the County Assembly so silent in the face of wanton wastage of public funds?
That is a question that is best answered by the oversight agents, which are the committees of the Assembly. It is not the Speaker who does the oversight. Having empowered the MCAs for four years and trained them locally and internationally, and then a bridge is swept away, to be honest the MCAs ought to be the ones to have asked those questions. But did they? No, because the second Assembly will go down in history as one that went into bed with the county executive and was such a let-down to the people of Kajiado.
So, would you then say that despite your best efforts, the County Assembly during your tenure failed in its oversight responsibility?
The second Assembly, yes. I have had the privilege of working under Governors [Dr David] Nkedianye and Lenku. I headed both the first and the second Assembly. If I am to rate them on a scale of zero to 10, I would give the first Assembly a 7, while the second Assembly I would give a 4.
We know that part of the problem is that the governor has enormous powers and resources to dispense patronage to various MCAs in the form of bursaries and other favours, including “development” in their respective wards. This then affects the role of oversight. How can that problem be resolved?
Very easy. I had the privilege of chairing the County Assemblies Forum as a national chairman. One of the things I always pushed for is an amendment to the Public Finance Management Act by Parliament — either chamber can initiate that amendment — so as to give financial autonomy to the County Assemblies.
Currently, the Parliamentary Service Commission is independent from the national executive. But when you come to the counties, devolution does not go below the County headquarters. We still centralize resources around the governor’s office. The treasury is one and the governor has the final say on the county treasury. So, when they want to sit on monies that belong to the County Assembly or for bursaries, or for development, they will.
Once the law is amended to give the Assemblies the autonomy that is so badly required, then oversight can be possible. Otherwise, without that amendment, even if a strong Speaker is elected, the governor has a way of manipulating MCAs and dangling carrots. They will threaten the Speaker with impeachment, and the Speaker is left with no choice but to remain silent. For me, I still spoke out.
Considering that problem, what then is the status of implementation of the legislation and other resolutions made by the County Assembly? Were these being blocked?
Most of the legislation enacted was the tick-the-box kind of thing. The money bills, for example: You cannot access a budget unless you pass legislation in form of the Budget and Appropriation Bill. The Finance Bill is the only route to collecting own source revenue. So, those Bills were implemented to the extent that you cannot access money without them.
But the other Bills that have an impact on the livelihoods of the people of Kajiado are gathering dust. They include the Water Harvesting Act, and a policy on charcoal harvesting. We also did something on automation of revenue collection; was it done? No, because it is not in the interest of the Big Boys to automate; they are able to pilferage when there is confusion.
What advice would you give to the incoming Assembly and Speaker regarding the things they should set as priorities?
First, instead of rushing to enact new pieces of legislation, let them take stock of the laws that are enacted but have not been implemented. They should push for implementation of the enacted pieces of legislation. Those laws have an equal effect even in the High Court sitting in Kajiado as national laws.
Second, please do not go into bed with the executive. The legislature begins to end the day you defend the executive and begin taking advice from the governor. No executive the world over loves being oversighted. The people of Kajiado County will get a raw deal the day you befriend the executive. If the governor has not done the right thing, ask hard questions. If he has done the right thing, give credit where it is due.
Specific areas I would want them to look at include systems in the county government. The County Public Service Board is an embodiment of abuse of power. If nothing is done about the manner in which it is doing its work, then we don’t have a public service. It is characterized by nepotism and a lack of systems. Appointment letters are given left, right and centre without due process.
They must also look at financial audits of the county. They must look at own source revenue. The county is given more money by the exchequer based on improvement in collection of own source revenue. A keen look at own source revenue would be a good start for the next Assembly.
Last but not least: Do not politicize the work of the county legislature. It is constitutional in nature; you will create friends and enemies alike, but always rely on the law. Make rulings that are good for the people of Kajiado, not for a political party.
What are your plans for the future?
I have impeccable academic credentials. I am an advocate of the High Court of Kenya practising law and I teach mediation. I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. It is time to spend time with my family and reconnect myself in the professional world. I am an eminent person of Kajiado County and I am not going anywhere.