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Skeptics must learn that counties will be more effective with extra funding

By Anyang' Nyong'o | April 26th 2015

Some time in the late 1950s, a British colonial officer came to our village in Ratta, in then Central Nyanza District, for a public baraza with us. His main concern was to explain to us why it was absolutely nonsensical to put pressure on the colonial government for Kenya to be independent. He told us that Great Britain, a civilised nation with a tremendous industrial history, had done its best to bring civilization to Kenya. What with the schools, the hospitals, the roads, the clothes and even the English language itself: all these things were not there before the white man came to Kenya. Were we to be left alone we would still be fighting each other and roaming around the bushes naked and without security for the future. In any case, how could we be independent when we could not even make a needle!

When he finished addressing us through an interpreter, Benjamin Owuor Owaga (Owuor Piny Owacho), an accomplished Christian who spoke good English, stood up to ask a question in Dholuo to be interpreted. He said: “Excuse me Sir. Have you read the Bible? In the book of Exodus we read of a prosperous Egyptian kingdom which was ruled by a Pharaoh many centuries ago. They had chariots and palaces glittering with gold. They also owned slaves, some were Hebrews who came from Israel. The Egyptian civilization had no knowledge of English. Two things are important here which I would like you to address: the Egyptians were civilized without being colonised by the English: what do you say to that? The Hebrews were unhappy being slaves in a civilized Egypt and fought to be free: are we any different from them?”

The white British colonial officer got very upset when he heard these questions and said he was very disappointed that some people had been infected by the mischief of people like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

He warned the local chief to ensure the political agitators like Jaramogi did not hold any meetings in the villages to feed the innocent people with “fitina”. He got into his VW car and drove off in a huff. Had we listened to that colonial officer, perhaps Kenya would still be a colony today. Without knowing how to make the needle, we still fought for independence and today we can do more than just make the needle in our factories, research centres and polytechnics.

The 2010 Constitution created two levels of government: National and county governments. The Constitution goes further to delineate in detail how these governments are formed and how they relate to each other in an “interdependent and cooperative manner”. In Schedule Four of the Constitution there is a clear specification regarding the different functions that these governments perform.

For example all functions regarding agriculture, health, land, housing, veterinary services and energy are functions of the county governments. The national government is only left with policy making in these areas.

The Constitution further says that in making the budget for the two governments, money should be allocated according to functions. The question is: which level of government should receive more money than the other when it comes to the functions mentioned above? Is it the level of government which actually performs the functions or is it the one which implements the functions? We seem to have answered this question from a point of departure that believes from the very beginning that the national government must, in all cases, always be receiving the money and deciding when and how to give it to the counties to perform the necessary functions.

We also seem to be captured by a misleading mentality, that the national government is “big” and the counties are “small”. This is wrong. Why? Because size is not the issue here: function is the issue. Further, we are also prisoners of “the beginner can’t make it” mentality; very much in the manner in which the British colonial officer talked to us in Ratta at the dawn of independence.

This man did not believe that Africans could ever be able to govern themselves because they could not even make a needle. In like manner, the county government is now here with us. It is part and parcel of the Constitution. County governments must begin somewhere; but they must have the tools of trade, the money needed to perform the functions assigned to them by the Constitution. This money is voted to it by Parliament.

The government prepares the budget and brings it to Parliament to be debated on and passed. Why can’t we recognise these functions and give counties adequate resources to carry them out? If they are not making needles now, they will easily surprise us when they begin making tractors as they learn how to use the resources they have in much better ways. After all, the Province of Gauteng in South Africa has three times the GDP of the Republic of Kenya. Just imagine what happens in Gauteng.

This is the issue that we in Okoa Kenya have been discussing for some time, and after much research and statistical evaluation, we came to the conservative conclusion that counties need at least 45 per cent of the national budget to fulfill their functions. The policy making arm of government which is mainly resident at the national level does not really deserve more resources than the executers of the policies in areas like agriculture, health and veterinary services.

And in empowering the counties we empower the people of Kenya, because the people of Kenya are the residents of these counties. Just remember what 2.5 per cent of the budget allocated to the CDF from 2002 to today has done in our communities compared to what the District Focus for Rural Development did in 24 years till 2003. The administrative overhead of implementing CDF projects is 3 to 5 per cent; that of implementing donor funded projects is usually in the range of 30 per cent or more.

Issues have been raised regarding problems of governance in the counties. Governance is indeed a major problem in county governments.

First and foremost, the Constitution is clear that all holders of public office derive their mandate from the people and must fulfill their responsibilities in accordance with the rule of law and principles of good governance. Failure to do so is bound to invite the wrath of the people and the law. There does seem to have been some disregard for the rule of law and observation of good governance principles in both county executives and county assemblies.

A tendency to behave with impunity seems to have been creeping in when wrong doing is not punished or called into question effectively. What is at stake here is the urgent need to institutionally ensure good governance in counties within both the legislative and executive branches.

The people themselves must also take the responsibility of not only electing good and capable leaders but also continuously exercising their democratic rights to keep their governors and law makers in check.

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