By Ooko Victor
Is the State of Devolution in Kenya better than it was in 2013? How about 2016? Has there been tangible or observable progress? This line of questions can attract mixed responses from Kenyans. The feedback received would most likely be subjective; reflecting opinions expressed by political leaders whose views we subscribe to. Others would be keen to stick it up with political party positions. A good number would narrate personal experiences, or experiences either positive or negative, narrated to us by those close to us; or total strangers we met on a bus and felt an understanding with. In other words, subjectively, the debate would be as diverse as any can be. Objectively, we would all most likely agree that there has been progress. Numerous challenges notwithstanding, there has been progress, but the yardstick doesn’t have to be that short. Kenya could have done far much better than we are currently doing.
What are the functions of the County Government?
The functions of County governments as outlined in the Fourth Schedule of the 2010 Constitution permeates local agricultural activities; management and provision of county health services; control of public nuisances (including air and noise pollution) , and outdoor advertising; responsible for cultural activities, public entertainment and public amenities (recreational activities as outlined); county transport (county roads, street lighting, traffic and parking, public road transport, ferries and harbors); animal control and welfare; trade development and regulation; county planning and development; pre-primary education, village polytechnics, home craft centers and childcare facilities; implementing specific government policies on natural resource and environmental conservation; county public works and services; firefighting services and disaster management; control of drugs and pornography as well as ensuring community participation in county government affairs. It is therefore quite easy to map these functions against actual projects under implementation on the ground.
Has there been any notable progress across the country?
This article seeks to interrogate the progress made, whether positive, stagnant or negative, against 5 key yardsticks for devolution that include;
The objective is to attempt to provide a wider evaluation of devolution and its contributions towards improving the living standards of ordinary mwananchi while providing probable solutions that continue dogging this noble grassroots development scheme.
Separation of Powers
The effective functioning of the county government is dependent on good working relations with the national government, who are the custodians of county financial allocations. The timely disbursement of funds, for example, enables routine operations like payment of county staff as well as the purchase of vital instruments that ensure smooth operation of county government affairs. Cooperation and coordination of functions crucial to county governments but still held by the national government like security, all rely on amicable working relations. Proper administration of county affairs benefits the locals the most. It is, therefore, crucial that these partners respect the spirit and letter of the law in dispensing their various roles. Constant clashes between the County and National Governments over delayed disbursement of funds as well as non-cooperation in outlining county expenditure to justify subsequent funding are impeding the spirit of devolution and denying vital services to ordinary citizens. Whereas there is a clear separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and legislature; the Judiciary is charged with interpreting the law and as such, has the legal obligation to interrogate the process and outcomes of legislative and or executive procedures where a citizen seeks redress. Similarly, the Senate has the responsibility of keeping tabs on county administration but only as far as they are within the purview of the constitution. The constant bickering between Governors and Senators; Governors and County Assemblies as well as Legislative and Judicial arms should hardly arise if the spirit and letter of the law are followed through. It can, however, be assumed that these are the outcomes of a new process keen to find the right footing.
Revenue Allocation and Resources
The county governments are entitled to at least 15% of the total National Revenue collected. In his State of the Nation Address 2017, President Kenyatta insisted that his government has gone way beyond that minimum threshold, more doubling allocation to county governments to 34% of the 2016/2017 budget. Looking at this from a purely political angle, it is commendable the amount of investment the National Government is making on the counties. Worth noting however that disbursement of these allocations to the counties is has not always been a smooth affair. Lengthy delays are forcing county governments to borrow against the promise of financing from treasury further incurring loan servicing costs that would have been otherwise avoided.
With these disbursements, however, come the huge cost of financing recurrent expenditure at the expense of almost everything else. With barely over 35 billion in revenue collected a year by the county governments, the implication is that a huge chunk of the allocations from the National Government goes towards offsetting recurrent expenditure.
Also important to note is that the rate of expenditure is dismal in comparison to allocations set aside. In the financial year 2013/2014, only a paltry Ksh. 36.6 billion was spent on development projects in the 47 counties against an allocation of Ksh. 100.4 billion. In 2014/2015 the figure rose marginally to Ksh. 90. 4 billion against an allocation of Ksh. 144.9 billion. A huge shift was recorded in the 2015/16 financial year, with expenditure on development standing at 103.5 billion against an allocation of Ksh. 158.6 billion. The initial dismal performances may be attributed to either a problem in the disbursement of funds from the treasury or meagre utilisation of development funds due to bureaucratic procedures involved in tendering and dispensing of funds to finance development projects. There is also the matter of arriving at the various viable projects that merit financing and especially bearing in mind the militant county assemblies that have served to slow down processes whenever the opportunity presents itself. Within the 2016/2017 financial year, however, 8 counties set aside more than 50% of their budgets on development, further indicating continued regard for viable projects to transform the lives of the locals, if not merely to prepare for the bruising general elections that are only a few months away.
Transfer of Functions and Resources
The devolution of various services, key among them Health, have been met with widespread opposition from Health Practitioners. Looking at it from the citizens’ perspectives, however, devolving health is crucial to ensuring the provision of adequate and quality services at the various local health facilities, thereby improving the living conditions of ordinary citizens. Various counties have taken advantage of this newfound authority to expand medical facilities and also acquire medical equipment that would otherwise only be found in the various referral hospitals still under the National Government.
It is normal for all these confusion and resentment to exist in the initial stages of operation under the counties. However, it is vital for medical practitioners to understand that the devolution of health services is not about them, but about the good of common mwananchi who is constantly forced to travel from a village dispensary in Tharaka Nithi, all the way to Kenyatta National Hospital to seek quality health care for their loved ones. The challenges are always there with new systems, but with mutual investment in the process, it can only get better.
For any government process to be effective in impacting the lives of its constituents, public participation is crucial. It is the public, for whom the various projects are designed. It is mandatory, for example, that the public is involved in preparing county budgets. Here, they get to know whether matters of importance to them have been factored in as well as what s does not merit huge allocations as may have been drafted by the County Executive.
It is through such forums that revelations such as inflated charges for the procurement of wheelbarrows can be aired to the county government and an explanation sought. The public is then able to, through their elected representatives, call for budgetary estimates review to capture the needs of the people.
It can, therefore, be argued that this component of the process ensures county governments set aside funds for development to ensure they are well received by the public and therefore have a relatively easy time passing it through the County Assembly. With increased allocations to development projects and corresponding expenditure on these projects, then the fruits of devolution are most likely to be felt at the grassroots.
The state of Devolution is good. In the hierarchy of adjectives, it can still get better before ultimately becoming the best. These are the targets as outlined in the vision and mission statements of each of the 47 county governments. Devolution has seen roads built in counties that had never witnessed a tarmac road before; a large number of boreholes have been drilled to increase access to clean drinking water, and more funds set aside for construction of classrooms and laboratories in Pre-Primary, Primary and Secondary Schools across the country. Free maternal care at the local health facilities will lead to reduced infant and maternal mortality. A lot more needs to be done and especially in as far as the development of agriculture to ensure food security is concerned. The funds set aside for public works should also be reflected with improved county roads as well as other social amenities. Finally, county governments need to incorporate proper austerity measures to kerb against wastage of funds on inconsequential business and in particular financing of unnecessary trips by Members of the County Assembly in addition to huge amounts of money set aside for events and functions graced by the governor around the county.
The writer is a Research Consultant with Savic Consultants in Nairobi