On the 5th of March 2013, Kenya ushered in the establishment of her new county governments, complete with political leadership and representation. Kenya’s devolution is one of the highlights and biggest systematic changes embodied in the new Constitution and one of the greatest hopes for its citizens.
The expectation of improved standards of living at the local level by every Kenya is blatant, with the county governments anticipated to be the key driving force behind development at the county level. The Constitution requires county governments to provide key services such as healthcare, agriculture, transport, trade development and community participation.
With all the legislation that has been passed to support devolution, there is a clear intention by the government to implement decentralization successfully. In spite of the orderly processes in place to support devolution there are some facts that need to be understood, most importantly the duration of time it is going to take for complete implementation of devolution.
Currently the Transition Authority has its hands full trying to facilitate the provision of infrastructure which the county governments need to undertake their responsibilities. Majority of the county governments have come into place without adequate operating facilities in terms of premises and personnel and this has been the pressing issue being undertaken.
Before county governments can begin providing the services mandated to them by the Constitution, there need to be clear county budgets which support the services the county governments intend to deliver. In February 2013, the County Governments Public Finance Management Transition Act 2013 was passed in order to facilitate the county governments to spend their interim allocations from the national government and collect revenues previously tasked to the local authorities.
This Act also mandated the now defunct local authorities with the responsibility of developing county plans based on the services pervious undertaken by the authorities as well as the functions mandated by the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution. Plans are an important part of the budgeting process and are needed to reflect the prioritization of issues at the county level. Successful service delivery and financial management performance rests on well informed and realistic development and implementation plans. Reports soon after the establishment of the county governments in March revealed that a majority of the leadership are finding themselves without development plans required for the upcoming budget process.
The seamless harmonization of inter-ministerial plans and further consolidation of previous district plans to fit the new geographical boundaries that now make counties is surely a herculean task. The importance of plans for the budgeting and allocation process should not be overlooked. Even as negotiations continue for the constitutionally required equitable distribution of nationally raised revenue, we should remember that budgets require plans for implementation. For devolution to succeed, funding has to follow functions. Article 175 (b) of the Constitution clearly states that county governments shall have reliable sources of revenue to enable them to govern and deliver services effectively.
In this regard, we must also keep in mind that legislatively, the Constituency Development Fund has been retained and as such will serve as an additional decentralized fund aimed at development at the grassroot level. County and Constituency leaders must ensure that they do not experience a repeat of the parallel and non-inclusive expenditure that was witnessed with CDF expenditure between 2003 and 2012. Any funds geared for development at the grassroot level should be viewed as one collective pool aimed at improving the livelihoods of the citizens as opposed to stand alone resources that function independently.
This comes back to the area of planning and budgeting and it is especially important for the county governments which need to coordinate three sets of plans that have been legislatively mandated. There are the county integrated plans which comprise of county sectoral plans and county spatial plans, the county development plan for the budgeting process and constituency proposals. These sets of plans are pivotal to the success of the county government and as such should be synchronized as much as possible to avoid duplication, conflicting interests and ensure continuity.
When all is said and done, the most pressing challenge that county governments face currently in light of the responsibilities mandated to them by the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution, is the harmonization of functions from line ministries to the county governments. County governments are only going to be able to successfully fulfill their constitutionally mandated functions when they are fully aware of all that it entails. Concise and all inclusive transitional processes are going to be a major key to success for the national governments implementation of devolution and county government’s capacity to deliver services.
These processes are detailed, bureaucratic and demanding. Kenyans should be aware that it may take up to five years for the full functions previously undertaken by central government to be devolved to the counties. One thing is for certain, there does not seem to be any interruption in the level of service delivery from what citizens are accustomed to and the hope is that this shall remain the status quo.
The success of devolution in Kenya shall be realized over time.
Substituting systems that have been in place for fifty years cannot successfully happen overnight.
(Mwende Mwendwa is a Policy Analyst in KIPPRA’s Macroeconomics Division. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the position of KIPPRA)