This year, the key highlight was governors Peers Benchmarking Meeting in Makueni county hosted by Governor Kivutha Kibwana.
The architects of the 2010 Constitution intended devolution to be the game changer in the governance system. Going through the Constitution, one finds a common thread of devolving power, decisions, resources and increased public participation. Few questions will help us get the basis of the arguments made in this article; has devolution lived up to the intentions of the drafters of the Constitution eight years after its promulgation?
Has the devolution of resources made a difference in development and local priorities championed by communities, with respect to their diversity, cultures and general welfare?
Is public participation genuine, stage-managed or a confused manipulative tool for those in power with least understanding from the citizenry?
In my view, great strides have been made since 2013, when devolution took effect. County government structures have been set up and are operational. Recruitment, capacity building and deployment has been effected and is continuous; development of county planning priorities through a participatory process that culminated in respective CIDP in counties; resource allocation for development going by local unique and specific needs has guided expenditures of resources; and establishment of Municipal and City boards is almost complete.
These are major achievements on part of the 47 county governments.
National government has been very supportive through resource allocation from the upwards of over Sh1 trillion. Instructive is the special arrangements on Sh38 billion medical equipment leasing to counties to enhance their capacity in early diseases detection, provision of cancer treatment as well as dialysis and treatment of emerging diseases. Health facilities have been expanded and upgraded to Level 4 and 5 in most counties. Deployment of specialized Cuban doctors to county hospitals is a further indication of the keen focus national government is paying to the health sector in collaboration with the counties.
Collaboration and synergy in education, agriculture, water, land administration, and tourism is wanting and these are some grey areas where challenges are evident between national and county governments.
Taxation and trade is another area where there is friction with the National Treasury, imposing guidelines on how counties should collect and spend Own Generated Revenues. Operational harmony is necessary for the benefit of the people.
Public participation is progressively taking shape through the push by non-state actors, community organisations, civil society activists and faith-based organisations. Senate has also developed the Public Participation Bill 2018, which is under enactment. Much remains to be done to achieve critical mass of citizens in the counties able to actively participate in local development priority setting and decision processes that enrich the spirit of devolution.
The provisions of Chapter Six are yet to scratch the surface in relation to accountability from the leaderships in public office. Many county bosses have taken for granted the threshold of integrity, character, values and transparency requirements. Actions, directives and even pronouncements do not bring respect, honour and integrity in the offices they hold as provided in Article 73 of the Constitution as well as principles of national values under Article 10. Some governors brush aside accountability queries from citizens and unfortunately view and treat public petitions as a bother.
Whereas there are agencies mandated to ensure provisions of Chapter Six are adhered to by all seeking public office such as in the EACC, the IEBC, the Judiciary, Parliament and in the county assemblies, not much activity to correct the bravado and display of arrogance by leaders that has been witnessed. Once in office, the need for continuous leadership monitoring to keep the bar high tends to take a back banner.
Corruption, particularly in recruitment and appointments at the county level, is very glaring. County public service boards have been turned into punching bags of governors, as they accuse them of recruiting for former governors or unknown political interests, pushing them to make illegal appointments, promotions and generally harassing them out of office. The huge staff and salaries bills are self-inflicted burdens by sitting governors.
though county assemblies have had lesser corruption-related issues, recent
arrests by the DPP of assembly officials in Nairobi, Homa Bay and others under
active investigations, has turned spotlight on them. It is unfortunate that
most are not objective, do not understand their oversight roles and are ever
accompanying governor for project initiation, or inspection tours, which tends
to blur their objectivity and they end up being compromised. County assemblies
must review the thin lines between initiating development, budget making, and
project audit against their critical oversight role.
Moving forward, composition of boards and their efficiency in operationalising municipalities and cities development activities in the 47 counties, coupled with well-crafted regional economic blocs will determine the next phase of devolution as macroeconomic hubs for the nation's development.
More importantly, however, is the need to have focused, results oriented, ambitious and strategic leaderships heading counties. Everything stands or falls on leadership. The buck stops there — at the kind of leader in office. The electorate need to rethink the parameters of why they vote against the urgent need to tackle the numerous socioeconomic and environmental issues challenge their lives every day.
The writer is a devolution, policy and governance expert