NYONG'O: Why Controller of Budget is wrong on development in counties report

CoG chairman Josphat Nanok and other governors during a press briefing at Delta House, Nairobi, on December 7 last year /EZEKIEL AMINGÁ
CoG chairman Josphat Nanok and other governors during a press briefing at Delta House, Nairobi, on December 7 last year /EZEKIEL AMINGÁ

One thing needs to be made very clear: Most county governments are committed to development. It would be very foolhardy to run a county without paying any attention to development. In fact,ds it would be politically suicidal.

But what is development? The answer is simple. Development is improving the productive capacity of a society so that people should first and foremost meet their basic needs and then enjoy "the fine things in life" such as art, culture, music, dance, drama, travel, story telling etc.

Thus people in developed societies know that their basic needs such as food, housing, education, clothing and security are taken care of most of the time while they themselves are always involved in productive activities in their adulthood and before they retire. When they retire they take the opportunity to travel and enjoy the fine things in life all over the world.

Kenya is still rather far from being a developed society. One clear indicator of gross underdevelopment is unemployment. Close to 60 per cent or more of our people are unemployed, or unproductively employed. The other 40 per cent work and support the other 60 per cent even after retiring; hence they have very limited opportunity to enjoy the fine things in life after retirement.

Let me now go back to the counties. In 2010 we passed a new Constitution that created two levels of government, national and county. They are as "separate but interdependent."

Schedule Four of that same Constitution gives different functions to the two governments. But the Constitution

also notes that the national government has the overall responsibility of making laws, regulations and policies which will affect the counties without necessarily affecting the spirit of the Constitution.

What is even more important is that the national government has the monopoly of raising revenue and distributing it to the counties under a formula formulated by the Constitution and implemented from one financial year to the other by Parliament. The Controller of Budget, currently Agnes Odhiambo, is a key player in this regard. She recently produced figures contending that most counties did not, during the first quota of this financial year, spend even a single vent on development. But on that later.

If my mind serves me well, previously as a Senator and now as a Governor, the Constitution requires that all counties spend at least 30 per cent of their budgets on development. Development includes spending on education, health, production, environmental control, water, fisheries, housing, infrastructure, art, culture, etc. Thus when a county spends money paying medical staff, buying medical equipment as well as medicine and building roads all this is development.

But we tend to think of development very often simply in terms of physical infrastructure or immovable assets. One can build a whole edifice and call it a hospital but if it has no personnel nor equipment to deliver health services it will not really be a hospital! It will not add much to development.

Human resources development is hence an integral part of development. The same is true with ECD Centres. Mere infrastructure does not make an ECD. One needs this as well as ECD teachers who must be trained, motivated and paid.

The data thrown out there in the public that counties are not spending timely on development, or spending nothing at all, is very often erroneous, especially when done by the Controller of Budget. Counties may not spend enough; but that is quite often because the Treasury does not give them enough money and the revenue they raise locally is meagre. The supply side can definitely be improved, but this does not warrant an erroneous analysis of the problem or a blame game that may degenerate into scapegoating counties.

I am convinced that counties have the noble aim of improving productivity of their people and hence raising the requisite resources for development. What is regarded as recurrent expenditure is a necessary competent of development. But when recurrent expenditure yields little development it becomes unproductive. Recurrent expenditure must be dovetailed to yield development by making it cost effective, lean, efficient and result-oriented.

What counties are currently suffering from are overgrown bureaucracies, which tend to be inefficient and unproductive. Downsizing these bureaucracies is a developmental investment. The national government must bite the bullet, or take the bull by the horn, by investing in downsizing this bureaucracy, retooling it and making it an enabling instrument in the development of the counties. After all the counties did not create these bureaucracies: They were inherited from the previous authoritarian regimes.

That was the job that was to be done within the first two years of devolution; it was never done. That does not mean that it cannot be done. If counties do it they are likewise investing in development. It can be done and needs to be done.

Let us not think of counties as aberrations to good governance in Kenya. If anything, they are the best things that ever happened to this nation. All the philosophies we have had before regarding "people centred development" were somewhat ill thought out or not thought out at all. Some were applied without much success, like the district focus for rural development.

Devolution has so far had resounding impact on development from the grassroots. Let us conceptualise it correctly and criticise it constructively. For the first time the people of Kenya are living the dream of Osegyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah when he said "Seek he first the political kingdom and all these things will be added unto you."

And this brings me to my last point. What happened during the first quota of this year was very simple. Development

money was not released by the national government to counties in time. That the books of Odhiambo showed that money had been budgeted for did not mean it had gone through the necessary budgetary processes and IFMIS released to be used by counties for development.

If Odhiambo had simply called the Council of Governors and asked what was happening to development money in the counties, she would have received a good answer. But then she preferred to communicate through a more round about way: the media. That has its other advantage: It draws public attention to the Controller of Budget as well as the counties. After all good news or bad news is always good publicity.