Uhuru Kenyatta laid foundation for devolution in new structure

President Uhuru Kenyatta opens the 114km Garsen-Witu-Lamu road. [File, Standard]

One of the legacies President Uhuru Kenyatta will leave behind is the implementation of a devolved system of governance.

Devolution came about following the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution. In 2013, Kenya held its first elections under the new constitution. Following President Kenyatta’s win, the implementation of the new system of government fell on him.

The primary objective of the decentralisation was to devolve power, resources and representation down to the county level.

In the last eight years up to 2021, President Uhuru has, admittedly, pumped in Sh2.44 trillion to county governments. This amount is about Sh1 trillion shy of Kenya’s current budget of Sh3.3 trillion.

“I am happy to report to Parliament that my administration has laid a sound foundation for the devolved system of government; a foundation that has the potential to multiply the economic fundamentals of our county economies immeasurably,” said Uhuru during his last State of the nation address last year.

It is on the premise of this funding that county government projects have roared to life. But in the same breadth, the creation of the devolved units also opened the flood gates to devolved corruption.

Makueni and Nairobi counties are two such examples of the boon and bane of devolution; one is a success story while the other was bedeviled by graft and mismanagement that prompted the president’s intervention.

In 2016, just three years after the advent of devolution, Makueni was heaped with praise from the World Bank thanks to its public participation model that allows locals to have a say in development projects.   

A WB report noted that Makueni’s model of public participation entails not only identification of projects but also the full involvement of residents during implementation.

Two years later it also got recognition from the UK-based Financial Times newspaper which cited Makueni County as a success story in devolution. This was largely thanks to a fruit processing plant and two milk-processing plants.

The fruit processing plant, the brain child of incumbent Governor Kivutha Kibwana, was set up upon realisation that many of the 12,000 mango farmers in his county were struggling to earn a decent living because of lack of a market.

Nine months into the project, mango farmers’ fortunes had gone up from Sh3 a kilo or even less in profit to Sh15. This also saw the number of mango farmers surge.

Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) in Kenya, also launched the Kathonzweni Milk Processing Plant with a capacity to pasteurise 1,000 litres of milk per hour.

This was triple the 300 litres per hour of Kikima Dairy Plant that the county had installed the previous year.

The gains in Makueni are a stark contrast of the failures witnessed in the capital Nairobi. Poor governance, cartel capture and outright graft have defined the first phase of devolution.

In 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta established the office of the Nairobi Metropolitan Service, completing the national government’s takeover of key functions from a rudderless county government.

Lt-Gen Mohamed Badi was appointed director general of the service, which now oversees health, transport, public works and planning dockets that Governor Mike Sonko ceded on February 25 the same year.

Uhuru’s intervention in the running of the city government was a culmination of seven years of hue and cry over the manner the county was being run.

Right from the election of the county’s first Governor Evans Kidero in 2013, the county was at the mercy of cartels who made it hard for any meaningful development to take place. And when  Sonko took over in 2017, he inherited the same problem.

County revenue targets were not being met, cartels siphoned public funds from City Hall’s coffers through dubious payments and service delivery was at an all-time low.

Sonko at one time called on the president to help him run the county, citing outside interference. This led to City Hall and the national government signing a deed of transfer agreement that saw four county functions transferred.

The transfer took effect in March when Sonko and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa -at a ceremony witnessed by the president and Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka at State House-  signed the final deed of transfer following public participation.

NMS was tasked with dismantling cartels at City Hall, streamlining renewal projects such as urban housing in Pangani and Jevanjee, as well as implementation of the Nairobi railway masterplan. Its tenure was to run for two years but it has since been extended to November 2022.

The newly formed office was also mandated with reforming the water and sanitation sectors, sewerage, health, roads and housing.

Although effective, the NMS which is under the Office of the President has also received its fair share of criticism from the public; mainly over its double funding from the national government and the county assembly. Its opaqueness when it comes to scrutiny has also been an issue.

In addition, the entrenchment of devolution led to the creation of two Houses- the Senate and the National Assembly.

Their relationship has been characterised by sibling rivalry and supremacy battles.

The bickering between the two Houses began with the advent of devolution. In May 2013, the Senate and the National Assembly got embroiled in power wrangles sparked by the Division of Revenue Bill, 2013.

The issue was raised when Suba MP John Mbadi questioned why the Senate was debating the Division of Revenue Bill, 2013, a Bill which had already been debated and passed by the MPs just a few days before. The MPs, led by the then Majority Leader Aden Duale felt that the Senate had over stepped their mandate and were trying to assume powers that had not been provided for them in the Constitution. Soon, the bitter exchange between the two Houses degenerated into a political scuffle, with both seemingly pushing for personal interests rather than speaking in one voice for the good of the Kenyan people.

The prickly relationship between the two Houses would continue and would rear its ugly head again in 2019 when MPs led by Bahati legislator Kimani Ngunjiri resuscitated calls to have the Senate abolished and the positions of Nominated MPs and MCAs scrapped.

This however did not happen as it would only be possible through a constitutional amendment through a referendum before the 2022 polls.

Fast forward to 2020 and the two Houses locked horns again, this time over the passage of laws by the National Assembly without the input of the Senate.

The Senate consequently instituted legal proceedings to challenge 23 laws that had been enacted unprocedurally by the National Assembly. Key among the Bills was the Parliamentary Service Act.

As a result of the frosty relations key Bills from the Senate referred to the National Assembly were also not concluded by the time the two houses adjourned sine die ahead of Tuesday’s general elections.

Additionally, towards the tail end of Uhuru’s tenure, he further tried to redefine devolution by advocating for “one man one vote one shilling” module of revenue sharing.

This was after the Senate in 2020 reached a deadlock seven times over the revenue sharing formula to be used between State and counties.

The impasse was caused by concerns on whether Kenya would use the current system in which county administrations are allowed to handle huge amounts of money, or whether to follow the proposal which allocated revenues proportionally based on the population of each county.

Some MPs were worried that if the “one man one vote one shilling” formula was implemented some counties with smaller populations would lose out.

Uhuru ultimately okayed an additional Sh50 billion funding to counties to break the stalemate on the revenue sharing. The development saw the allocation to counties balloon to Sh366.5 billion in the 2021/22 financial year.

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