(First published on savicltd.wordpress.com)
It is three years down the line since the inception and operationalization of the aspect of devolution following the promulgation of the New Constitution in 2010. Devolution is the most notable tenet that is anchored in the Kenyan Constitution since it presents a new frontier for socio-economic and political growth and development through the 47 county governments. It was within the principle of creating and promoting equality in the distribution of national resources(The National Cake) that devolution was enshrined in the Constitution.
This week the third devolution conference was held at Meru the home county of the current chairperson of the Council of Governors, Peter Munya. The main objective of this annual event is to evaluate the progress made as far as devolution is concerned and at the same time reflect on the challenges encountered by the county governments and if possible provide workable solutions to the challenges.
Majority of Kenyans are discontented with the pace of devolution. They cite corruption within the systems of the county governments as the root cause of their pessimism amid other challenges. Others are just negative in their opinions because it seems that they are masters of the status quo that centres and borders on centrality of government.
I believe that devolution is working and it will continue to work. Look at counties which were eternally marginalized before the promulgation of the new constitutional dispensation for instance, Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, West Pokot and others. At the moment, the residents of these counties can be able to witness infrastructural development as well as the development of social amenities which in the medium-term and long-term will improve the socio-economic conditions of the residents. Holistically, devolution has led to the construction of roads in regions that had no single kilometer of tarmac roads for five decades since attaining independence. In addition to the roads, health centres have been developed albeit the challenge posed by the industrial strikes by health workers.
The problem with some of the Kenyans is that they are always negative and pessimistic. What occasions devolution to appear as if it is a failure if not a disaster is the impatience exhibited by such individuals. Many had the expectations that once operationalized, the face of Kenya would instantly change due to the percolation of resources from the national government to the county governments.
This is not the case with economic development. The expectation of an economic miracle due to devolution could not have happened for one single reason. There were no systems and structures in place to warrant any momentous build-up of the necessary economic firepower that could trigger instant socio-economic transmogrification. One may present an argument basing on the now defunct local authorities/governments as having set a foundation for the county governments but the mechanisms on which the two operate are totally different.
In fact it may take another seventeen years before the ‘real’ effect of devolution becomes not just tangible but absolutely significant as well. This implies the period of time from 2022 going forward. I am pretty sure that devolution will trigger an economic spurt that will catapult Kenya’s economic trajectory from one based on a vicious cycle to one that is anchored on a virtuous cycle. Patience is therefore important.
In my opinion, however, the most evident bottlenecks that are dragging devolution include the threats posed by the scourge of corruption, the bureaucratic fiscal procedures in the transfer of allocated funds from the national government to the county governments, political bickering pitting the county chief executives and other elected leaders and the structural and budgetary miscalculation made by the Governors.
There is no doubt that corruption poses a very great risk to the foreseen economic take-off orchestrated by devolution. Corruption in Kenya is intrinsic as well as systemic. The governance situation which perhaps the policy makers did not clearly envisage is the devolution of corruption. Effective systems were not established to check on the possible trickling of corruption to the counties. Even the county governments themselves have no pristine measures and mechanisms to ward off corruption. This poses a great risk on the future of the state.
The transfer of the allocated funds from the central government to the respective county governments has been inefficient to a larger extent. This has been as a result of the financial red tapes that are extant. These bureaucratic procedures have stifled some of the devolved programs. The delay in the disbursement of funds has contributed to the frequent industrial disputes between the health workers and the county administrators. Other administrative activities have also been affected by the shortage of funds created by the fiscal bureaucracy.
The endless politicking pitting the county chiefs and other elected political leaders is also a threat to the smooth operation and running of the county governments. The governors have been embroiled in constant political battles with the Senators, Members of the National Assembly, Members of the County Assemblies and sometimes even the Executive of the national government. These leaders have often accused the Governors of propagating maladministration and allowing malfeasance to persist within the county governments. Some of the accusations may be true but also some of the criticism is out of the need to gain political mileage and political capital. This is outrightly true considering the declarations made especially by majority of the Senators to vie for the gubernatorial seats.
The major hindrance towards the prosperity of devolution is undoubtedly the structural and budgetary misstep made by the county chiefs during the inception of the county governments. All the Governors blundered by employing many individuals the result which has been the allocation of more budgetary resources towards financing the recurrent expenditure and relatively lesser amounts towards the capital expenditure. In my opinion, there ought to have been the institutionalization of a budgetary capping for the county governments so that thresholds for the capital expenditure and recurrent expenditure are stipulated. This would have laid emphasis on economic development other than on reckless if not haphazard spending.
Devolution is supposed to be a frontier for the promotion of inclusion, that is, economic inclusion, social inclusion, political inclusion and spatial inclusion. The citizenry need to question how the funds are used implying that transparency and accountability are primordial. Most of the challenges that are facing county governments apart from the delayed funding by the national government can be dealt with by the Governors. This can only happen if they shun rewarding their cronies, relatives and other associates with strategic positions and administrative portfolios. They need to focus on getting on board effective and efficient policy makers to help them stick to the fundamentals of economic growth and development. But as Kenyans we ought to be optimistic about devolution and relentlessly question about the use and misuse of funds as this is one of the surest ways that we can be able to hold the county chiefs accountable.