Give devolution time to work


Our nation finds itself in a moment of opportunity. We are undergoing a transformation of our system of government, under a new Constitution, itself the fruit of several decades of effort.

The chief transition, which the transformation requires of us, is the move from a centralised to a devolved government. The argument for devolution is that it brings public services closer to the people, who have more opportunities to participate in the decision-making processes than they would otherwise do under a centrally system.

This participation in turn contributes to improved accountability and transparency, due to the fact that people can scrutinise devolved governance structures more closely.

In the Kenyan context, devolution is said to be historically rooted in our ethnically fractured politics. It is argued that a system in which the winner-takes-all in a society where ethnic divisions are deeply embedded is inherently unstable. Under this scenario, elections do not resolve deep-seated differences and that therefore devolution provides a political instrument for pre-empting and managing simmering conflicts.

Moreover, devolved units of government provide a structured mechanism for including minorities in the broader tent of government. Kenya therefore turned to devolution to broaden political inclusion, smoothen the path of transition and mitigate against the winner-takes-all model. Under our devolved constitutional scheme for example, budgetary allocation is guaranteed to all counties irrespective of who won the political contest in those counties.

But public concern is emerging. Doubt is being raised as to whether the investment in devolution will yield a suitable dividend. As a corollary to this doubt, is a rising unease regarding the accountability framework for county governments.

The County Government Budget Implementation Review for the first half of the financial year 2013/14 released by the Controller of Budget for example, raised issues of low absorption of resources set for development, escalating wage bills and poor public finance management capabilities at the County level. The Auditor General has also highlighted fiduciary risks in the management of County resources.

At the national level, we have seen muscular rifts between the Senate and the National Assembly and between the Senate and County Governors. County Executive Committees in a number of counties have differed with their County Assemblies. Impeachments and threats of impeachment are on record. Health personnel downed their tools protesting against the transfer of health functions.

Perhaps taking cue from this disquiet, the National Assembly recently sanctioned a socio-economic audit of the Constitution which aims at assessing the impact of the implementation of the Constitution on the national economy.

Taken together all these elements may suggest that there are serious issues of concern with regard to the health of devolution. However, it is important for Kenyans to honestly interrogate this view for its validity.

The shift from the centralized to the devolved system of governance is a sometimes not adequately appreciated in terms of sheer scope and depth of change. The fact that we have forty seven functioning County Governments that have been established in a seamless manner and with little disruption to service delivery is a reason and an accomplishment that we should be proud of as a nation.

The legal framework in support of devolution is largely in place. A National Capacity Building Framework for County Governments is under implementation to ensure that County Governments receive adequate support and training so that they can more effectively discharge their mandate.

Functions and budgets have been transferred. The national government’s allocation of 32 percent of ordinary revenue to counties in the current financial year is more than double the constitutional minimum of 15 percent.

County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) were developed through rigorous consultative processes, and aligned to the national development policies as contained in the Second Medium Term Plan of Vision 2030.

Payrolls have been transferred and guidelines to manage human resources have been adopted to ease the anxiety of personnel during this transition period.

Institutions to manage intergovernmental relations have also been established, and a framework for robust consultations is in place. The hardware of devolution has been built. It is now up to the creativity and genius of citizens residing in each county to identify the issues and means of engagement to make this hardware work for therm.

The justification for devolution remains true today as it did on August 27, 2010. The tests that we face were anticipated and we can expect even more. The journey never was for the faint of heart. In life challenges are guaranteed but defeat is elective. Let us give devolution time to work after all what other choice do we have.

(Waiguru is the Cabinet Secretary,  Ministry of Devolution and Planning)

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