BWIRE: Efforts must be intensified to enhance devolution coverage

It seems the takeaways and lessons learnt remain the same, from the previous meetings.

In Summary
  • The organization of the event was great, and counties did their best in showcasing their best opportunities.
  • Great work has been done in the last 10 years of devolution.
Victor Bwire is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya.
Victor Bwire is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya.

The 10th Devolution Conference comes to an end in Eldoret this week, it seems the takeaways and lessons learnt remain the same, from the previous meetings.

While the organization and planning of the conference have improved tremendously, similar issues, especially the challenges facing county governments and assemblies keep on being raised.

The organization of the event was great, and counties did their best in showcasing their best opportunities from which others could borrow while others displayed serious inability and lack of creativity.

Great work has been done in the last 10 years of devolution, and in many counties where resources are well managed and have able leadership, change is happening in the lives of the citizens.

Through creative and innovative partnerships, public-private partnerships, memorandum of understandings, use of own generated resources and development funds from the national government, some counties are really on the path of development.

Many have mobilized citizens into forming cooperatives, producer and value chain groups, and factories among others to open their counties and create income-generating opportunities.

You could pick from the stalls and exhibitions, that a lot is going on since the onset of devolution.

Some counties from forming publicly owned commercial companies are running serious investments in water generation, solar generation entities, and factories while others have put up functional level 5 hospitals, feeder roads and county offices.

Through partnership with the national, some counties are doing industrial parks, EPZs and related infrastructural projects that have tremendous impact on residents, and the country at large.

In the same vein, some counties are big jokers, and what they displayed in their stalls just shows how they are not serious.

From non-participation in any panel discussion to detached staff who could not engage with customers visiting their stalls, to displaying merchandise that was purely bought/hired and had no relevance with the county.

How on earth were counties other than Narok, Samburu and Kajiado, displaying Maasai shukas/kokoi, bracelets on their shelves? I saw omena displayed by a non-fishing county- while others bought shirts and caps for display, yet they have no known garment-making factory.

Perennial challenges facing devolution include delayed disbursement by the national government to the counties, delayed and demotivated staff, stalled/abandoned projects due to delayed funds for development projects, capacity issues at the counties especially in project implementation and accounting that sees friction with the Office of the Controller of Budget- that leads to delays in disbursements, national government holding onto huge percentages of funds for devolved functions.

Additionally, at the county level, the executive arms hold onto funds meant for independent bodies such as the County Service Boards, County assemblies still get their allocations through the executive instead of being functionally and financially independent, own generated revenues, especially from Health cannot be utilized at the source as they have to be remitted to a central account, and many times disbursed to other uses, huge wage bills related to ghost workers and poor working culture.

Procurements in most of the counties are hawked and have no value for money, hot air payments and pending bills, dysfunctional revenue generation units and lack of focus or competition with the national government on project ideas.

Special project accounts, especially for development partners, are held in secrecy and misused badly because of poor supervision and non-disclosure by project staff.

These are stories of interest that the media could focus on and ask questions to those charged with overseeing the devolution process.

The media need to highlight the history of devolution and the many attempts towards decentralizing governance and service delivery in Kenya, the success, and worst cases and why, it was important to support the decentralization of administration with the transfer of resources and authority through the process.

Attempts at decentralization started at independence, through majimbo, which granted significant recognition and responsibility to the regions.

The system granted power to the Local Authorities to collect taxes and the responsibility for the maintenance of schools, health facilities and minor roads.

Through “Sessional paper No. 10 of 1965 on African socialism and its application in planning” the government established the principle of state direction of development process and decentralization of planning based on local inputs as a means of improving socio-economic wellbeing of the rural community.

The Sessional Paper No. 4 of 1975 on ‘Economic Prospects and Policies’ laid emphasis on the Government’s commitment to rural development’. In furtherance of this thinking, since the late 1970s and early 1980s, the six Regional Development Authorities (RDAs) that were established were given a common mandate to plan and coordinate the implementation of regional development activities.

The District Focus for Rural Development Strategy (DFRDS) that made the district the epicentre of all development interventions emphasized economic and social development via the exploitation of local resources.

The Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) was implemented in 2000 in tandem with the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) followed by the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (2003- 2007).

A lot more needs to be done to improve on the media coverage of devolution ranging from capacity-building of the media, both the county executives and assemblies to address the gaps and hurdles including training on media relations, media literacy and public out-reach and participation including the convening of regular media and county forums for debates/discourse on devolution.

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