Devolution of Power Helps Kenya to Progress

    BY MUTHONI MAINGI

    In 2010, Kenyans enacted a new constitution, which established a system of devolved government with 47 lower-level county governments.

    The operation of the counties started soon after last year’s March elections, which included the election of county governors, deputy governors and representatives. The 47 new county governments are now in charge of overseeing functions including the provision of healthcare, preprimary education and the maintenance of local roads. These were previously the responsibility of Kenya’s national government.

    Machakos governor Alfred Mutua has leveraged the resources and capabilities of devolved governance in his model called “Maendeleo Chap Chap”, which means “quick development” in Swahili. Through this, the model aims not only to develop and execute infrastructure projects in good time, but to also settle some historical resource distribution promises that successive Kenyan governments made before the devolution model was introduced.

    A recent and notable example is the “fastest highway built in Africa” since Kenya’s independence in 1963. The Makutano-Kithimani highway was a common feature in campaign promises by successive Kenyan governments. Locally elected leaders from the area also assured its residents that the road would be tarmacked in subsequent campaign promises.

    In his campaigns, Mutua also undertook to tarmac the road that would link Yatta and Mwala subcounty. The road would provide essential economic linkage from the eastern part of the country to the western side, joining Garissa Road with Machakos-Kitui road.

    In order to cut costs quoted by the Kenya National Highway Authority and to reduce the time that the body said it would take to build the road, Mutua reworked a model that would increase personnel. Further, he devised an operations plan that would have 11 contractors build 3km of the highway each, thereby reducing the time it would take to build the road from up to four years to three months.

    While Mutua seems to be taking the challenges of planning, resource management and citizen outreach in his stride, the significance of the administrative changes brought about by devolution should not be underestimated. Counties face large institutional capacity challenges; an area that the ministry of devolution and planning is tasked with resolving through its mandate.

    According to the controller of the budget’s half-year report, counties had targeted cumulatively collecting Sh67.8bn (R8.24bn) in the 2013-14 financial year, but the actual revenue collected during this review period stood at Sh9bn. This represents a modest 13.2% of the annual target.

    “The absence of strong and independent internal audit units, weak revenue bases, unstandardised remuneration, high public expectations and transition challenges, are some of the impediments to smooth functioning of devolution,” said Benson Okundi, chairman of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya.

    Despite the challenges, there was significant improvement in local revenue collection during the third quarter of the financial year, when Sh9.9bn was raised, compared with Sh4.5bn and Sh4.7bn raised in the first and second quarters respectively.

    It is interesting that Mutua’s Machakos is not one of the counties that reported better results, despite the investments in infrastructure and development projects in the region.

    The initial narratives of Kenya’s devolution process as well as the managerial styles of its governance actors are an interesting space to observe.

    For the first time since independence, distributional grievances in historically marginalised areas can now be addressed. It is also interesting to observe the transition from a country that had its political and, to a great extent, economic life revolve around the presidency to a country that now has several key players in charge of the distribution and allocation of key resources to the electorate. It will also be useful to note that when it comes to measuring progress, inevitably the counties will be compared with each other using key performance indicators that have been defined by the national government.

    Having said that, the counties are coming from a different baseline — some are, and have always been, better resourced than others both financially and in terms of human resources.

    How will this legacy of disparities among the counties be addressed when measuring intercounty progress? Other than the nationally defined progress indicators, how will county-specific progress indicators be identified and measured?

     Maingi is a Nairobi-based brand management and strategy expert.

    This post was first published on BDLive.co.za HERE

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