• CRA says allocation to counties has been declining since 2013 despite advice to the contrary.
• Government wants to centralise power, weaken counties so people say devolution has failed, they say.
Is devolution facing a systematic threat from centrist-minded government elite in Nairobi?
Yes, absolutely, say civil society organizations, the Commission on Revenue Allocation, the Council of Governors, economists and lawyers.
They spoke on Tuesday at a forum in a Nairobi hotel. They said the "stifling approach" is intended to diminish finances of the counties to undermine them and consolidate centralised power.
CRA's director of research and policy Lineth Oyugi said allocation to the counties has been declining since 2013 despite recommendations to the contrary by the commission.
"As a commission, we believe the Senate is justified to increase the allocations to counties up to Sh335 billion," she said of the stalemate between the two houses of Parliament regarding the Division of Revenue Allocation Bill.
Oyugi also said part of the undermining is the obscure manner in which the national government has been managing conditional grants without adequate consultation and cooperation.
"There is no clear policy on managing the conditional grants and this has seen it doled out to counties that toe the line on matters interest of the national government," she said.
Oyugi also cited delayed approval of disbursement schedules and release of the funds to the counties.
CoG chief executive Jackline Mogeni called withholding funds a grave concern.
As at April 30, the counties have received only 68 per cent of the monies approved for the 2018-19 financial year. The norm is that the remainder will be disbursed into our accounts by June 30, a day the financial year ends," Mogeni said.
This means the governments won't be able to spend this money, "leaving all the planned projects stuck," she said.
"This money will have to be wired back to the CBK for re-budgeting. The earliest the devolved units will get money is October," she said.
Mogeni said reports that the mediation efforts are likely to fail mean that citizens won't be able to receive the basic services like healthcare, ECDE, agriculture and better roads, among others.
"It is actually them [citizens] being punished," she said.
Oyugi said there is a challenge in interpreting Article 203(1) of the Constitution regarding what qualifies as a national interest.
"The national government has been treating national interest to mean its interests and this has been skewing the revenue division," she said.
Moi university law lecturer Mutaha Khangu said revenue sharing laws have been interpreted to disadvantages the counties. "Revenue raised nationally is not the same as revenue or property of the national government. It needs to be redistributed to counties — not as donations," he said.
He took issue with implementation of the Big Four, terming it part of the affront to the counties.
Most areas such food production, which is largely about agriculture, and healthcare are devolved, yet they are not being implemented in the context of devolution, he said.
Economist David Ndii said targeting the devolved units starts with clawing back their resources gradually, a method he claimed, that succeeded in vanquishing Majimbo system.
"It starts with crippling the finances of the units which renders them unable to deliver the services, then eventually raising public agitation to shut them down," he said.
Lawyer Kamotho Waiganjo said that though the corruption at the county level is concerning, it is a narrative being exploited by centrist-minded elites to dismantle devolution.
"Yes, there is corruption at the counties, but is it as big a problem as the ones at the national level? This argument is being exploited to divert the attention of the public in preparation for destroying devolution," he said.