This article firs appeared in by column with the Business Daily on June 7, 2015
All ruling parties and coalitions in healthy democracies have to regularly contend with opposition parties. While the Opposition can play a useful role in ensuring government keeps its commitments to the populace, sometimes it can degenerate into verbal brawls that politicise every issue under the sun and, not always constructively.
It would be useful if the Opposition in Kenya engaged with government in a manner that adds value to the information base of the electorate so as to build a culture of interrogation that goes beyond allegations and counter-allegations. There are a few core roles that the Opposition could play in building a conversation that drives the country in a better direction in regards to economic development.
One is creating a shadow Cabinet that mirrors the role of Cabinet secretaries of central government ministries pertinent to the economy such as the National Treasury, ministry of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development, ministry of East Africa Affairs, Commerce, and Tourism as well as key economy-related government bodies such as the Central Bank of Kenya.
However, under the current Constitution that is largely presidential, unlike a parliamentary system where ministers are selected from the House—which now makes the Budget—this is currently not very viable.
They can still create something akin to this. There can be a core team of advisors who critique the administration and policies of government in particular departments or portfolio pertinent to economic robustness and development. For example, what is the opposition’s advice and critique on why the value of the Kenya shilling is falling and what should be done to arrest the decline? How can government effectively service the high levels of foreign-denominated debt it currently holds? How can government manage and eventually reduce the currently prohibitive levels of recurrent expenditure? Even basics should be addressed such as: what should government do to reduce unemployment? How can the upward pressures on the cost of living and inflation be managed? These are all biting questions to which opposition can apply itself.
To add healthy competition to the mix, the opposition should ideally elect all the members of their shadow teams, with the leader of the opposition perhaps having the final input on who should head the teams. This can be a useful experiment that the opposition can use to test the competence of its members and determine their level of commitment and intellectual dexterity in the docket for which they contested.
Further, this is an effective means through which government can call for engagement and seek specific and constructive input from the opposition in a manner that adds value to the development of the country. The opposition can make clear suggestions to the government with input and new ideas for the benefit of all Kenyans.
Ultimately, the point is that there is a clear role for the opposition through which they can take on the government to ensure that promises made are being kept. Creating such teams is an effective means through which the opposition can move away from the current verbal battles that tend to be deeply viral and ethnic-based. The interaction can be more constructive. It’s time to evolve, Kenya.
Ms Were is a development economist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter@anzetse