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How grand corruption in the counties undermines devolution

By Billow Kerrow | July 17th 2016

In July last year, nearly 60 per cent of Kenyans regarded corruption as the biggest threat to devolution and the most pressing problem county governments should address in a key survey conducted by Transparency International-Kenya. Majority of Kenyans expressed their dissatisfaction with their county governments and only a handful, eight per cent, knew how much money was allocated to their respective counties. In August of the same year, the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission released a report detailing how county officials were looting public coffers through irregular deals and shady procurement contracts, amid revelations that nearly 30 counties were under investigations. The story was the same in 2014 when the Auditor General released his reports on various counties revealing widespread corruption in the counties.

Today, the same sorry state of affairs prevails in counties. Recent reports by the Controller of Budget revealed the massive wastage of public funds, misplaced priorities and poor administration of resources that continue unabated. At the recent governors' conference in Meru, President Uhuru Kenyatta warned governors that those stealing public resources would be treated like criminals, accusing them of 'picking the vice and running away with it'. Outrageous transactions of theft occur in some counties. Petitioners told a Senate committee this week how their county government procured a pipette for artificial insemination that costs Sh30 at an inflated cost of Sh875 per piece!

But in spite all these growing concerns, the county governors accuse everyone except themselves of undermining devolution. The Council of Governors, an outfit mandated in law to build capacity and efficacy of the county governments, spends time and huge resources rubbishing every report by independent institutions and commissions, and the public, on corruption frenzy and mismanagement by their members. They have gone to court at taxpayers cost in stymied defence of their members facing impeachment or other legal actions. At every opportunity, they pat themselves on the back, often glorifying the successes of devolution in their own gloated and sexed-up assessments.

In recent weeks, several counties have been in the news over infighting between the executives and their assemblies over county budgets. As expected, the disagreements are largely about how many resources are allocated to their respective projects or programmes that are used to generate kickbacks. It is not about priorities for development as is often alleged but where to put more money so that it can be siphoned off. While the governors are charged with the mandate for management of public resources in the counties by law, they have often attempted to shirk this responsibility by blaming their staff. But to any discerning observer, it is hard to see any county where the governors do not call the shots on how each penny is spent, who gets what contract or what projects will be prioritised for implementation.

The county assemblies have in most cases been reduced to an appendage of the executive, endorsing the excesses and pillage either through connivance with the executive or abdication of their mandate. For most, it is the desire to participate in the looting that encourages them to look the other way and sanction corruption in their counties. Oversight over public expenditure in their counties have lost meaning in most counties, even after their financial independence was addressed.

As we enter the final stretch before the General Election, it is pretty obvious that the raid on public coffers in counties will be enhanced. It is imperative that the public, and the national independent institutions mandated to oversight counties, enhance their vigilance to fight this vice in our counties and give devolution a respectable name.

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