OPINIONPeople Daily

Review criteria to gauge devolution success

Oliver Mwenda 

Recently, I read an article on how New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern was considering adopting a different model to measure the country’s economic success.

The proposal, the first of its kind, will be using social, cultural and environmental parameter to gauge economic progress. If adopted, this will be a real departure from the traditional benchmark of  tracking country’s economic growth on Gross Domestic Product(GDP).

New Zealand will be plunging into uncharted territory because there  is no standard defined measurement for the three dimensions that fall into emerging shift to measure growth, in what can be summed up as Human Development Index (HDI).

This is in line with what the Bretton Woods institutions— World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—which have been trumpeting the need for nations to reconsider the GDP approach and measure the success of an economy beyond a strong balance sheet.

To this end, it would be a welcome break for County governments, which play a central role in the country’s economic, social and political growth to embrace this model. It is, however, notable that success of devolved units is mistakenly premised more on economic success with tonnes of flagship programmes initiated by the devolved units.

County governments should equally prioritise enacting social policies designed to guarantee income security and access to essential social services for all, paying particular attention to vulnerable groups.

This approach will allow policy makers to look at devolution success holistically using robust and relevant  indicators. Economic success should go beyond the balance sheet and physical projects because residents need good governance, a functioning institution where services are rendered aptly and generally, improved livelihoods.

In a nutshell,  economic success shouldn’t be viewed as an end in itself. We need to interrogate how counties are not only utilising the billions of shillings being channelled from the National government, but what impact these funds have on the social development of the residents.

In my view, the drafters of the Constitution incorporated the element of devolution in the governance framework with the noble idea to improve people’s lives and build societies at the grassroots. But this economic end is by no means the only one because there are other critical realities such as promoting inter-communal unity, provisions of essential services and  rule of law and equality. 

These are much better indicators in judging the health and success of devolution. If social indicators are incorporated in the devolution discussion, the electorate will have an opportunity to judge the success of their respective governor’s not just on physical projects, but through these indicators which are rarely given their right currency.

In the private sector, success is judged by profitability. However, the same cannot be said of governments as the main role of administrations is maximising tax collected for greater public good. 

There is need for an independent audit to gauge the immediate net cost devolution has so far in the 47 counties. The outcome may or may not be favourable, nevertheless , it will be a great compass in guiding economic , social and political policies to be adopted by the devolved regimes.

What is especially significant now is the immediate need for a completely different approach in defining development and growth in counties. This will ensure the units do not become hostage of own image of success, characterised by shiny and expensive projects which unfortunately end up having no meaningful impact for residents.

Incorporating social development as an important agenda in devolution will contribute more towards reducing poverty, containing inequality, sustaining equitable economic growth and encouraging greater empowerment and autonomy for women in counties. – Writer is Public Policy & Communication Specialist 

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