Devolution still distressed ship five years on…

Seth Onyango @SethManex

All governors converge in Kakamega town this morning for the fifth Annual Devolution Conference, bearing the baggage of stunted growth in most devolved regions and recurring queries on what ails devolution.

The forum, which has brought a splatter of colour to the three venues where it will feature—county headquarters, Bukhungu Stadium and Kakamega High School—has gained national stature, but since the first was held in Kwale in 2014, some of the problems that hampered devolution then still linger.

The initial conference at Leisure Lodge, chaired by then Council of Governors (CoG) chair Isaac Ruto, was not attended by the Executive because of bad blood between the National government and the council, but mutual harmony has since evolved, with the event being opened today by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto closing it on Friday while Opposition leader Raila Odinga will address it tomorrow.

Newly refurbished Bukhungu Stadium, an outstanding example of devolution and development, will be noticeable to visitors, but not many counties have hallmarks to show in five years of devolution.

The Auditor General’s reports have constantly revealed massive plunder of public resources at the counties through dubious procurement processes. The auditor has also indicated in his reports that counties could be losing billions of shillings due to inconsistencies between the Integrated Financial Management and Information System (Ifmis) and counties’ financial transactions statements.

Other revenues are lost to corruption and revenue collection leakage. At the same time, counties are increasingly becoming reliant on the State after failing to meet local revenue targets, thus continuously putting a strain on the Treasury to provide development top-up funds.

This year, the counties will get half of national revenues collected, but governors have still variously grumbled that it is not enough. The latest report by the Controller of Budget (CoB) Agnes Odhiambo shows the counties collected only Sh4.82 billion between July and September, last year.

The amount is 8.6 per cent of the annual target of Sh55.92 billion. The local revenue collection was below the expected performance of 25 per cent of the annual target, and implies that some planned activities may not be implemented due to insufficient funding.

Lack of public participation has been blamed for the failure by counties to minimise conflicts in taxation and revenue collection, legislation and business as witnessed in first years of devolution after the 2013 General Election. While taxes imposition and charges for provision of services are constitutional obligations, counties have been encouraged to make themselves financially independent.

The findings by the CoB come at a time when the CoG has opposed a proposal by the National Treasury to have a say on how county governments generate revenue through taxes.

The proposal by the Treasury is contained in the proposed County Governments (Revenue Raising Regulation Process) Bill of 2017, which the governors say reviews how counties levy their taxes.

At this year’s devolution conference, county governments are supposed to discuss and find solutions to how the regions can navigate through inherited debts from previous local authorities and structural overlaps that have led to inflated wage bills.

Among the list of worries by Kenyans is the endemic corruption always captured in the Auditor General’s reports and nepotism in the employment of county staff. In Nairobi, which counties look up to, Governor Mike Sonko will need to do a lot to rekindle hope that his administration is up to the task of fixing areas ailing East Africa’s largest city and a continental hub.

An archaic drainage system, traffic congestion, garbage and crater-like potholes right within the Central Business District are a malaise shared by Nairobi and the tourist gateway of Mombasa.

The maladies are replicated in Siaya, Homa Bay, Kisii, Busia, Kiambu and Kisumu where mountains of garbage, potholed roads and clogged drainage systems have become the order of the day.

So far counties have received up to Sh1.5 trillion to fund their operations translating to improved infrastructure, healthcare services ad employment opportunities. Nonetheless, there is still massive corruption in the counties where procurement processes are manipulated to benefit a few individuals.

This year, governors will also seek solutions in regard to inter-county boundaries disputes that have caused loss of lives and property in some parts of the country. There is seething boundary conflict along the Meru-Isiolo border as well as between Kirinyaga and Embu counties.

Governors are also requesting for involvement in dealing with security issues especially in regard to terrorism and cattle rustling. The national government has, however, been apprehensive about giving governors a stake in the control of national security.

This apprehension by the national government has led to the delay in the formation of the County Police Authorities that should have been managed by the governors and be responsible for security matters in respective jurisdictions. B

ut governors have cited shortage of funds to counties and disharmony between the national government and devolved units as the biggest challenges facing devolution in the country.

According to Council of Governors (CoG) chair Josphat Nanok, the conference provides an opportunity for the country to iron out issues that have frustrated devolution. Meanwhile, Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa called for capacity-building among members of county assemblies to cope with needs of regional economic blocs formed by amalgamation of counties.

Speaking in Kakamega town yesterday, he said empowerment of MCAs was a prerequisite to developing critical thinking about issues in their respective counties.

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