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Governors cement regional economic bloc agreement

By John Shilitsa | March 27th 2018 at 08:50:18 GMT +0300

Some of the governors during the first Lake Region Economic Bloc Summit in Kakamega.

KISUMU, KENYA: Fourteen governors in the western region have launched an economic bloc to help spur growth.

Ten governors who attended the Lake Region Economic bloc meeting on Monday signed draft legal instruments and county assembly bills in Kakamega.

The bills and legal documents will be tabled before a summit made up of the 14 governors, awaiting eventual adoption in the respective county assemblies.

With the coming together, the governors want to leverage on shared boundaries and utilise shared resources to benefit residents.

The passing of the bills at the county assemblies would legalise the economic bloc and make the outfit fully functional and pave the way for partnership in the areas of tourism, agriculture, education, and finance.

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In agriculture, the agreement seeks to finance a commodity exchange programme to boost production.

Farming technologies

Under this arrangement, the counties will also seek to cut production costs and emphasise adoption of new farming technologies.

“We want to enhance food security through coordinated agricultural strategies, facilitated sharing of human resources, create an enabling environment for economic growth and investment and establish a public-private partnership in areas such as health, education, environment, water conservation, and climate change,” the governors said in a joint statement read by Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega). The agreement also seeks to end marginalisation of individuals and communities. Mr Oparanya said devolved units were too small to leverage on economies of scale, hence the need to look beyond the physical boundaries that divided them.

The member counties include Bomet, Bungoma, Busia, Homa Bay, Kakamega, and Kericho. Others are Kisii, Kisumu, Migori, Nandi, Nyamira, Siaya, Trans Nzoia, and Vihiga.

Governors will also focus on developing regional sectors for excellence, developing research, investing in infrastructural development and other key resources to accelerate economic growth.

To make the bloc financially stable, the county chiefs are working towards having a regional bank where they can access loans at an affordable and agreed interest rate.

Following the signing of the agreement, counties will now embark on the tough journey of raising at least Sh2.8 billion seed money amid shortfalls in revenue collection and piecemeal disbursements from national treasury.

Already some members are struggling to raise their Sh200 million share to set up a regional bank that will be unveiled during the bloc’s inaugural annual conference to be held in Bomet County in October.

Private entities supporting the initiative believe it can only remain strong and overcome challenges through public-private partnerships and leaders' commitment.

The British ambassador to Kenya, Nic Hailey, welcomed the initiative and said: “Devolution has made enormous strides since its inception and the collaboration will enhance co-ordination and sharingof resources as well as service delivery."

He said the United Kingdom was already collaborating with county governments in some sectors such as energy and would support the bloc to realise its dream.

Representatives from the United Bank of Africa and Africa Health and Development International (Ahadi) also backed the initiative, saying it would strengthen the health sector, ensure food security, boost manufacturing, and lower the cost of living.

Governors will leverage on economies of scale and shared resources with the focus on improving the living standards of about 14 million people in the region. The bloc has prioritised agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, ICT, tourism, financial services, and water and environment.

Oparanya, who was elected the bloc’s summit chairman, said county governments would focus on pooling resources through collective investment and having inter-county laws.

“The envisaged economic bloc will act as a one-stop-shop for investors keen to exploit existing opportunities,” said Oparanya.

He added: “Our focus is on promoting food security, pursuing economic growth by creating an enabling environment, pursuing joint investment programmes, facilitating development of human resource,  and promoting public private partnership."

Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso will deputise Mr Oparanya. The summit, where all the 14 governors sit, is the bloc’s top decision-making organ.

Poor health

Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong said his county would benefit from the arrangement since the influx of patients from Uganda had contributed immensely to his county's poor health sector.

“We have other treaties being entered into by our presidents in the name of East African Community protocol, which hurt us as a county, but we are happy this initiative has come at an opportune time,” said Mr Ojaamong.

“In Nyamira, we grow a wide range of crops but hardly realise profits due to challenges, but we hope things will now change for the better,” said Governor John Nyagarama.

Lake Region Economic bloc Governor Joyce Laboso
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