Devolution dream achievable, if we strengthen governance, cut waste

The sixth devolution conference goes down this week and marks six years of the devolved system of governance in Kenya. The 2010 Constitution gifted us 47 devolved governments, which have revolutionalised governance and resource allocation in a big way. Indeed, Kenya has been transformed in a way never seen before. Nairobi, the hitherto seat of power and influence, no longer has a monopoly of vital resources and infrastructure. All the 47 counties, some previously seriously marginalised, now get their fair share of funds.

With a governor and a county assembly, the devolved units can now decide their development trajectory and prioritise their own projects. Six years on, there are vital lessons from the implementation of  devolution. There are spectacular successes and notable failures as well. Chief among these is the realisation that modest resources, put at the disposal of prudent managers, can positively transform people’s lives.

Makueni County, under Prof Kivutha Kibwana, has proven that it is possible to have an efficient universal healthcare. This is telling, considering that devolution of health services has been seen by some as a huge mistake, owing to teething problems. Kakamega County now has modern small markets with street lighting, an indicator that it is possible for rural traders to eke out a living in dignity without being exposed to the elements or  truncheons of county askaris. But it has not been a bed of roses. In some counties, billions of shillings have been sunk into bottomless pits.

Money meant for life-changing programmes have been shared between cronies of county administrators. These are the lessons every Kenyan voter must learn. As we take stock of devolution, there is need to strengthen this system of governance. If nurtured well, it could herald equitable distribution of resources and a transformed Kenya. Counties should now strive to eliminate waste, promote transparency and public participation to ensure projects benefit the majority. For those giving devolution a bad name, they must clean up their act even as relevant State organs tighten the noose on corrupt administrators. Every penny disbursed should be used for intended purposes.

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