Repurpose devolution to achieve a new Kenya

Counties are currently locked in a tussle with the national government over delays in disbursement of funds by the National Treasury, a move they say has slowed down development.

Now, devolved power and resources are a game-changer in our country. A case at hand is my village Gagra in Uyoma, Siaya County, where there were no roads and amenities. Every part was impassible. Through devolution, Gagra has opened up.

I have travelled to many counties and while some have greatly improved due to devolution, others are still lagging behind despite receiving billions of shillings annually.

It is ironical that some are agitating for more, yet they have nothing to show for what they have received over the years.

I have seen county leaders build big homes, drive fuel guzzlers, live like royalty while their people suffer.

Some governors only think about personal gain, leading to massive corruption. The issue is not devolution but accountability.

I wish senators would do their job of being county government watchdogs. If we don’t work on accountability, more of our money will be hidden in tax havens.

This week, Auditor General Nancy Gathungu said: “If you steal from Kenyans, invest it in Kenya, then perhaps we could see development in our country and then later we ask the question, where did you get it from?”

People were confused by that remark, but she meant that corruption has been devolved. With good leaders, Kenya can go far but only if the resources are used well.

Already, the Controller of Budget (CoB) has flagged some counties for misusing resources.

According to a report released this week, the CoB declined financial requests worth Sh3.2 billion from over 20 county governments with wrong classification of expenditure, an unjustified high wage bill and inappropriate budgeting for pending bills listed among reasons occasioning delays in the disbursement of funds. Allow me to give an example of Mama Rose from Usigu, Siaya County. She called and requested that we help enlarge and deepen her community water pan in her village.

She saw an opportunity to prepare ahead of the March-April rains so as to collect water. Her concerns reminded me that we can do better when we listen to people on the ground.

It is interesting that some counties from Nyanza are also crying about effects of drought yet they have the fresh water Lake Victoria that can be used for irrigation.

The percentage of Kenya’s agricultural land stood at 48.55 per cent in 2020, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, and this is enough to feed our country and even export the surplus.

Don’t we understand climate change? Why do we make the same mistakes time and again?

We can pray about it but, we must plan better as a country. I believe in prayer and I remember as a poor teenager, I could wake up at 5am, pray and go look for a job. Prayer without action is doomed.

I am a true believer in devolution and while there have been a lot of negatives, devolution has worked in some counties.

Take for example, Makueni where former governor Prof Kivutha Kibwana left them with fruit and milk processing plants, a thriving retail sector, year-round medical cover at all public institutions for a subsidised cost.

If every county could do what Makueni has done, we would be far as country. I wish governors could see themselves as the future of Kenya and being a governor should give you a chance to run for a national position.

Still, the government should carry out awareness campaigns among the masses so that they know their rights.

With good governors, Kenya can go far but only if the resources are used well. You will be surprised how the counties will be if we could listen to community members like Mama Rose.

The writer is founder of Shofco and a member of USAid Advisory Board. [email protected].