How diplomacy will help counties plug budget deficits

Women leaders and diplomats from the European Union, the US and Scandinavian countries met recently to take stock of the recent political events and the future of devolution.

They held a session to recognise and celebrate the women of valour who rose against odds to become governors, and offered fresh insights on the relationship between counties, the national government and development partners. Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga, Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Wavinya Ndeti (Machakos), Cecil Mbarire (Embu), Fatuma Achani (Kwale), Kawira Mwangaza (Meru) and Anne Waiguru of Kirinyaga attended the forum in Nairobi a few weeks ago.

The presence of the US Ambassador Meg Whitman, herself a politician who attempted a ran for governorship in California and that of the UK High Commissioner Jane Marrott among other diplomats at the event was motivating. After 10 years of teething challenges with devolution in some counties, an opportunity for a fresh start has arrived through women leadership. They have the tough task of putting their counties on a sure growth trajectory.

The national government has an opportunity to open room for increased structured engagement between counties and representatives of our development partners. This will pave the way for counties to get funding for projects that may not benefit immediately from exchequer support.

Under the new "bottom up" economic model, the Government should find a way of regenerating its diplomacy to allow counties to engage with verified partners for the sake of accessing additional resources to fund sectors that suffer from national underfunding. What emerged from the meeting with the women governors was the zeal and the drive to seek solutions to the ailing health sector, value addition initiatives, the water sector and jump-starting the feeding programmes in schools as well as dealing with governance issues that hinder development.

There was an impressive feedback from the diplomats and the representatives of various missions on county governments as the emerging centres of economic diplomacy in Kenya. Diplomacy in the 21st century has undergone noticeable transformation, turning from philanthropy and aid to business through public private partnerships. The new administration should embrace these kind of engagements and encourage counties to partner with local and foreign entities. This will deliver development and skills transfer and also help in capacity development.

The women leaders need the national government support to help midwife negotiated partnerships and speed up approvals of the proposed PPP initiatives to unlock development.

In the past, approvals for PPP funding and partnership initiatives took too long, running over funding seasons leading to losses and killing development dreams. Some government agencies and counties have also dragged their feet in making budget provisions for partner funding. 

The writer is a commentator on devolution