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February 16, 2019

Ruto And Co: Are You Sure Of What You Are Asking For?

Isaac Rutto and the devolution campaigners must end the clamor and get down to work.

Devolution is not about haphazard handover of functions or control as happened when the so-called Arab spring protests overthrew governments to hand over to unknown entities and quantities such that Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and so on are all still in flux.

Bottom line is, who is being handed over power to?

Governor Rutto and his Council of Governors claim that they need 40 per cent of revenues and functions such as roads building, rural electrification among others handed over to them.

Nothing wrong in the desire, we should all be ambitious.

But even form four prefects hand over to form three ones as their term approaches its end ensuring there is smooth transition and the system is not destabilised.

In the case of counties, the functions are being handed over to who exactly?

In the case of road building, electricity connections, grain storage and so on, for now we know who is doing it.

It is the three roads agencies; Kenha, Kura and Kerra; overseeing highways, urban and rural roads respectively and overseen by the Transport and Infrastructure ministry for the road sector.

Rural Electrification Authority and the Kenya Power company implement rural electrification and National Cereals and Produce Board takes care of grain.

Devolved, Rutto and co., are not telling us who these functions will be handed over to.

They are simply demanding that the functions be turned over, and presumably, they will figure out who will carry them out.

That in a nutshell, is the rationale behind the now over flogged phrase, “We must protect devolution.”

Throwing funds at undefined entities at county level rather is not protecting devolution, it is irresponsible.

Already, the Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo, has raised the red flag over county officials’ continued use of manual accounting systems when they have already been taken through the Integrated Financial Management Information System. This is especially so when they are awarding themselves imprests without reimbursing what they have already taken.

It is not clear why the irrational push from Rutto and other governors. All, the Transition Authority as well as other constitutional commissions have said, is “Show us you have capacity and we will hand over the functions.”

Last I checked, many of our governors are currently doing head counts to ascertain the work force in their counties and ostensibly clean out ghost workers from their payroll.

So it is perhaps still too early to even tell how many engineers the county governments have, contractors, equipment and so on.

Traditionally, the ministries of Roads and Energy have been forced to return funds to the Treasury upon the expiry of the financial year for lack of absorption capacity.

For Roads, this could mean for example that there weren’t enough available contractors to carry out the budgeted works, or the tendering process took too long especially with multi-lateral agency funded works such as by World Bank and so on.

Have these counties even itemised their priority projects for this year and determined the availability of manpower and equipment to carry them out?

Still on Roads, it is also naive for governors to reason that since there is Sh27billion budgeted for Kura and Kerra for urban and rural projects respectively, that it will just be divided up for them to share.

A big portion of these funds are project-specific. That is to say, the funds were negotiated with a particular financier for a particular project.

Take the ongoing works to fix Nairobi’s missing links such as from Westlands roundabout to Kileleshwa, Olenguruone road and the like. These are projects specifically funded by the Japanese International Agency for Cooperation (JICA).

It is also funding the Dongo Kundu bypass in Mombasa and in the past funded the Sondu Miriu hydro-power project.

Now, does anyone expect that since such funds are penciled into the budget of say the Kenya National Highways Authority or the Kenya Electricity Generating Company, that they are available to be distributed equitably to each county?

If they know what is good for them, governors would also wisely steer clear of rural electrification until they understand the energy sector and the dynamics of energy supply.

For starters, REA is usually funded by the government to extend power to rural areas otherwise not commercially viable.

In carrying out this work, REA and Kenya Power have to deal with serious hurdles and headaches.

One, is capacity. Until Kenya Power begun training independent contractors, many so-called engineers who were undertaking these projects reported cases of electrocution, accidental falls from poles and so on and general trouble with the population and local authorities.

Others were simply doing shoddy work using substandard equipment.

Then, the cost of connecting the consumer is still being determined with government granting Kenya Power a Sh2.7billion subsidy to continue connecting consumers at the old rates while an independent study is carried out.

There is also the issue of acquisition of wayleaves and dealing with entities that would sue rather than let power line through their land such as game parks, conservancies etc.

It should also worry them, that majority of connections in rural areas are loss making. In fact, the reason the government of Kenya formed REA, was to shield end consumers from the pass-through costs that Kenya Power would need to recover from them by extending its network at great cost to rural areas.

If they want to shift this onto their balance sheets when it is a thankless cost they could have conveniently left to the national government, it is their funeral.

If governors take this on now, before they understand their actual capacity to carry out the works and the cost implications, they will only have themselves to blame when citizens demand service they deem to have been devolved to the county.
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