Kenya promulgated a new Constitution in 2010 with devolution being among the key gains that promised progress for the nation. This heralded a new era of hope with Article 174 of the Constitution outlining the objects of devolution that included giving powers of self-governance to the people, enhancing their participation in decision making, promoting economic development and ensuring equitable sharing of resources.
Devolution brought billions of annual Exchequer transfers to counties whose utilisation was defined by provisions that required counties to spend a minimum of 30 per cent on development. With these progressive safeguards, it was expected as a matter of fact that Kenya’s development outlook would improve considerably.
However, five years later, there is little to write home about. Whereas piecemeal progress has been witnessed across the country, it is not commensurate with the billions of shillings that have been pumped to counties from national government.
And while corruption is the main culprit, there is the bigger problem of poor planning which severely undermined the realisation of visible and impactful progress in many counties.
Benjamin Franklin famously stated that “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” and from this powerful statement, Kenya should draw deep lessons. Apart from defining the requirements on Exchequer transfers and county expenditure, the framers of our constitution outlined bare minimums on planning within the devolved units. In the strict sense of the law, no county expenditure can take place if it has not been captured in the planning documents which are the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) which cascade to the Annual Development Plan (ADP) then the county budgets.
The legal imperative for county planning emanates from the Public Financial Management Act 2012 which provides that every county shall prepare a CIDP with the County Government Act 2012 further obligating county governments to promote public participation during this process. This centrality of the citizen is intended to ensure compliance with the national values and the objects of devolution under our constitution. All planning processes therefore involving decision making must be preceded and validated by meaningful public participation.
In interrogating why the first five years of devolution did not yield desired outcomes, part of the reason is the flawed planning processes which were frustrated by the teething challenges that counties faced resulting in poorly drafted documents.
With counties now developing their second CIDPs, planners should use this benefit of retrospect as a learning experience and ensure that the next CIDPs assure the best development outcomes for Kenya in the 2018-2022 period.
The challenge is now on CIDP drafters and planners to ensure that the contributions of the people are incorporated in the final CIDPs while county residents have a responsibility to overcome the challenge of general citizen apathy that has always frustrated progress.
It is clear that counties are the frontiers of the transformation of our nation which is even vindicated by the fact that the Presidency has sought the adoption of the Big Four by counties. Devolved units are at the heart of development and with the CIDP process being vital in county planning, the tragedy of plenty without progress that was experienced in the first five years of devolution must be avoided.
Makueni County has recently become an exemplar in transformative development, having launched universal healthcare and a mango and milk processing plant respectively all of which tremendously altered the local development landscape and transformed livelihoods.
These projects were formulated during the 2013-2017 CIDP period and the reason they won national accolades is because they were conceptualized through meaningful citizen participation.
If all other 46 counties deliver development like Makueni has done for its people and if this is complemented by the success of President Uhuru’s Big Four Plan at the national level, then like the Asian Tigers, which transitioned from Third to First World within a generation, Kenya will also make the giant leap forward into prosperity and attain Vision 2030, making Kenya an industrialising, middle-income country.