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January 22, 2019

It's time to make devolution work

It's time to make devolution work
It's time to make devolution work

Somehow we believe our Constitution is one of the most progressive on the African continent. However, I have not seen any piece of scholarship on comparative institutions and governance capability that would qualify or back this belief. But I think the idea of devolution is brilliant.

Article 6( 1 ) of the Constitution provides that “The territory of Kenya is divided into the counties ( 47 counties) specified in the First Schedule”. In Article 6( 2 ) the Constitution states, “The governments at the national and county levels are distinct and interdependent and shall conduct their relations on the basis of consultation and cooperation.”

Years of whim and political bias created unconscionable inequalities. Hence, one of the objectives of devolution under Article 174(f) is “to promote social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services throughout Kenya.”

Article 186 and the Fourth Schedule specify the respective functions and powers of the national and county governments. Among the devolved functions are: county planning and development, including generating and maintaining statistics; agriculture, county health services, trade development and regulation and pre-primary education and village polytechnics.

The national government controls the policy, regulation, planning and finance, which undergird the devolved functions. The national government also controls the governance and management of urban areas and cities. Article 187 provides guidelines on transfer of functions and powers between national and county levels of government.

But is devolution working? It is time to evaluate devolution. What has worked or failed where and why? For example, are the budget resources as currently provided capable of delivering quality healthcare? Can the county governments as currently constituted drive the investments necessary to deliver agricultural transformation?

Moreover, do the counties have the resources and associated incentives to provide vibrant environments that promote enterprise, trade and efficient markets? To what extent is national economic policy, planning and public investment informed by county priorities and plans? Similarly, are county level priorities in consonance with national development priorities, eg Vision 2030, and especially the medium-term plans?

Article 189( 1 )(c) provides that “Governments at either levels shall liaise for the purpose of exchanging information, coordinating policies and enhancing capacities. How much capacity building and technical assistance to counties is happening?

Think of counties as business units, each with a set of unique and complementary endowments. We can design and test spatially explicit policies and programmes that respond to local challenges and opportunities, while leveraging the comparative advantage presented by contiguous counties.

In line with the objectives of the National Spatial Plan 2015-2045, we must develop regional and county plans that harness respective endowments of counties in order leverage economies of scale and foster regional economic integration.

We must build stronger cooperation and coordination between the national and county governments.

The counties must be well resourced, with adequate human, financial and physical resources. As they get stronger, counties must become socioeconomic growth engines that deliver equitable prosperity for all Kenyans everywhere.

Alex O Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute at Aga Khan University 

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