Is devolution helping Kenyans as anticipated under the new constitution?

As Kenya commemorates 5 years of the constitution that was promulgated on August 27, 2010, devolution is coming under sharp focus. 

Devolution was one of radical changes that the new constitution brought. 

There was excitement among Kenyans, when 47 county governments were unveiled to spur development , promote democratic governance, foster national unity, bring services, functions and resources  closer to the people by decentralising state organs and enhance participation of the people. 

It sought to ensure equitable sharing of the national and local resources throughout  Kenya. 

Other objective of devolution was to enhance checks and balances and separation of powers at the county governments.  

Are these county governments adhering to the key principles of devolved governments? 

Are county governments respecting democratic principles of accountability and separation of powers?

Are county governments collecting enough revenue to enable them govern and deliver services effectively?

Are we getting value from the two-thirds gender principles; where in almost all counties majority of nominated MCAs were women?

Subjecting these questions to critical analysis will help us attempt to review devolution progress in Kenya. 

Other counties have changed lives, others are still struggling with housekeeping issues.

Recent ranking of county governments performance, affirms that counties are progressing at different levels. 

Top league performers according  to Info track polls  include:  Machakos (61.50%), Bungoma (60.30%), Vihiga 59.80%, Bomet 58.70%, Kwale 58.50%, Elgeyo Marakwet  58.30%, Taita Taveta58.30%, Kisii 58.30%,West Pokot 58.20%, Kakamega 

Bottom ranked counties include: Tana River 48.60%, Isiolo48.70%, Mandera 49.30%, Wajir 49.40%, Marsabit 49.50%, Turkana 49.90%, Nyamira 51.50% and Makueni 52.30%. 

Experts agree that despite the false starts in some counties, devolution has many positives. 

Residents of Machakos are getting  water, tarmac roads and other developments. Residents of Wajir were moved to tears when they had the first tarmac since independence.  

Some towns such Meru, Kisii, Bomet are now cleaner and well managed under the county government.  

Nzamba Kitonga, the former chairman of the Committee of Experts said that despite the depressing pitting the Senate against the county governments, the Executive against Judiciary, Governors against MCAs and Senators, devolution has had many positives five years on. 

He added that most counties have undertake the repairs of rural roads murram roads, schools dispensaries and other local amenities. 

Counties have also recruited local professionals  and forgotten heroes to make clans and residents happy. 

Some businesses in counties are also happy.  Rural areas are getting facelifts through investments and construction by urban elites who want leave a mark in their counties. 

These are five major challenges affecting devolution 

Devolved corruption:  The Auditor General has noted that corruption in counties will affect service delivery and bog down Kenyans' aspirations on the constitution. There are serious red flags in most counties when it comes to financial management.  These reports indicates serous impunity, misuse and mismanagement of public funds. 

The counties are still grappling with cronyism, tribalism and negative ethnicity. In some counties, clanship is becoming a major consideration in accessing county employment, tenders, and other opportunities. 

Reduced revenue collection: Most counties are over depending on the national government to fund their programs. We are seeing limitations in many counties to get reliable and sustainable sources of revenue to deliver their services. 

There is need for counties to think outside the box in fundraising and seek  alternative sources of revenues. Further, addressing corruption in revenue collection can be addressed through automation to minimize corruption leakages. 

High recurrent expenditures and  bloated workforce: Most funds to counties goes to recurrent expenditures such as payment of salaries, allowances, travels and office operations at the expense of development.  

Workforce in most counties is  bloated, with limited skills and capacity to match varied needs of the counties. In Every county, each ministry have County Executive Committee (CEC), Chief Officer, Directors and Project Officers with duplicating roles. 

Some counties are spending as high as 80% on recurrent expenses.  It is time to tame this wastage and fix ceilings on recurrent expenses. 

We need governors to be innovative and spend at least 40 percent  on development. Most of the money should go  to infrastructure development,  health care, agriculture, environment  and social welfare. 

Limited citizen participation: Despite increased emphasises on the value of citizen participation in governance of counties, most counties are doing the opposite. Public participation forums are almost cosmetic and have limited contributions from citizens. 

At the same time, citizens are not utilising their power to check leaders. Now, citizens must rise up and influence development at the counties. Civil societies must be funded to support citizen participation initiatives to put county leaders on check. 

At the same time, the value of nominated MCAs is coming under deep focus. Are they really agitating for social issues concerning their constituents. In some counties, seldom do nominated MCAs make useful contributions in legislative agenda. 

Housekeeping issues: In most counties the antagonism  between Governors, Senators, MPs and MCAs is not good for development. For instance, the intolerance was so intense in Makueni and Embu counties, stalling development work. 

In some counties such as Narok, in fighting with the Governor, Senator, and MPs stalled development work.  

Conclusion

Despite the challenges, devolution offers great hope of changing the lives of Kenyans. We need to come with long term solutions to address the challenges identified. 

Forces that want to fight devolution should be checked. The institutions and leaders who are contributing to the loss of public confidence on devolution, should be reprimanded. 

There is need for meaningful involvement of civil society, private sector, professional bodies and the media in governance of the counties. 

Article written by Elizaphan Ogechi