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Lack of funds blocks plans of economic bloc to initiate projects

By Titus Too and Julius Chepkwony | Dec 15th 2021 | 5 min read
By Titus Too and Julius Chepkwony | December 15th 2021

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago (Centre) addresses the press in Eldoret after a meeting by North Rift Economic Bloc (NOREB) Governors on the operationalisation of the economic bloc secretariat. [File, Standard]

When Baringo, Nandi, Samburu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Trans Nzoia, Turkana, Uasin Gishu and West Pokot formed the North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb), there was hope there would be more growth as opposed to when each county was working alone.

The bloc’s aim was to enhance socio-economic growth in member counties, enable them capitalise on economies of scale and increase level of production in various sectors.

It was also expected to enable the eight counties in the Northern part of the Rift Valley to create a partnership and benefit from an enhanced level playing field while contributing to deeper trade and investment integration.

However, the question many have been asking is if Noreb is dying. The entity has been dormant with reports many projects it had planned to implement have stalled.

These counties announced they would prioritise collaborations in agriculture, trade, natural resources, sports tourism, wildlife, and their rich cultural heritage.

They would also work together to conserve the environment with mitigating against the effects of climate change being the main driving force in the collaboration.

Immediately Noreb was formed, a secretariat was installed to run its affairs but the bloc has been struggling because of lack of funds.

This problem has been compounded by the fact that there is no legal provision to enable member countries to contribute money to the bloc’s kitty so it can to carry out its mandate.

First, the Public Finance Management Act does not recognise regional economic blocs and as such, it does not make provision for budgetary allocation for them.

Because of this, it had been proposed that assemblies write laws enabling counties to contribute to the kitties of the blocs. This has not been achieved partly because some assemblies are reluctant to do so.

Noreb CEO Dominic Biwott said the bloc is at the mercy of well-wishers, a testament to how serious its financial problems are.

Other than lack of funds, Dr Biwott also cited insecurity, the vastness of member counties and inadequate infrastructure as other challenges making it hard for Noreb to realise its dream.

“Just like other regional blocs, Noreb is facing serious financial challenges and this is due to lack of a legal framework to enable counties to allocate it funds,” said Biwott.

“Failure by the regional assemblies to pass the necessary Bills on financial support to Noreb has made it difficult for us to carry out our assignment. The Public Finance Management Act does not recognise the regional economic blocs meaning they cannot draw money from member counties.” 

He said they are looking forward to the day the law will particularly mention economic blocs and provide for the transfer of funds from member counties to the outfits, procedures to be followed, and means of accounting for the funds.

“The Controller of Budget must be able to sanction the transfer of the funds and the Auditor General enabled to audit them, otherwise, they remain institutions surviving on well-wishers,” Biwott said on Monday.

Biwott said there was an effort by the Ministry of Devolution to develop a national policy on the regional economic blocs but the process stalled.

He said the blocs hold the key to addressing complex issues that can neither be effectively handled by the national government nor by a single county.

“That is why we need legislation that will anchor the blocs in law. It is good to note that there is a Bill by Senator Nyamunga Rose, called the County Resources Development Bill, that seems to support the formation of economic blocs. The Bill is likely to breathe fresh air in the blocs,” said Biwott.

Despite the struggles, he said Noreb has some achievements including making a draft to support its efforts to be anchored in the law.

The Bill will be among the things governors will discuss when they meet in Mombasa on December 16.

The Noreb secretariat has also completed an analysis on the causes of conflicts in the region and possible solutions to ensure lasting peace.

“We are also developing a post-Covid-19 socio-economic recovery strategy that will be harmonised with our economic blueprint,” said Biwott.

In November, Noreb launched a Transboundary Livestock Disease Control Policy aimed at building a disease-free region to ensure quality livestock and livestock products.

The policy will save the region from the annual interruption of livestock trade caused by the outbreak of diseases, said the official.

Members are currently working with the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife to develop programmes that will boost the sector further and attract more tourists.

Noreb has also developed a climate action plan for the Green Climate Fund and is expected to benefit from a Sh9.8 billion allocation from Hanns Seidel Foundation.

The bloc is also partnering with Finland’s Tampere University to support Koitalel University College in developing a sports science curriculum.

A meeting where Noreb, the college, and the university were to discuss the partnership, was to be held on December 10 but was postponed due to Covid-19.

Baringo County Assembly Majority Leader Lawi Kipchumba said the establishment of the bloc was a good idea but lack of funds has hampered its operations.

Kipchumba said the national government should help regional economic blocs to achieve their dreams.

He added that MCAs would consider a Bill seeking to provide for how the county can contribute to Noreb’s kitty.

“We hope to pass the Bill soon. The problem is that counties don’t get enough cash and as such, they are not able to support the bloc financially. The national government should step in,” said Kipchumba.

Christopher Chemosong, the Deputy Speaker in the county assembly of Elgeyo Marakwet, said Noreb prepared a development blueprint for the region but wondered why it has not been presented to MCAs for adoption.

“Assemblies have copies of the document but there has been no coordination to have it tabled for discussion,” said Chemosong.

“Noreb ought to have gone around assemblies explaining how their counties would benefit from the plan. Had there been coordination and lobbying, MCAs would probably have adopted the document by now. But at the moment, nothing much can be done now because MCAs are on recess until February.”

County Assemblies Forum chair Ndegwa Wahome said the constitutionality of the Bills presented by the blocs is in doubt in view of national legislation on the management and allocation of public resources.

“The problem we have with the blocs is they have no foundation in law. Their legitimacy has not been approved,” said Wahome.

He said they have not allocated any money to the Central Region Economic Bloc as no county assembly has passed any Vill to support it.

“We do not even know how the bloc is managed,” Wahome said.

He also said that economic blocs could be grounds for corruption and that there is need for a national legislation to guide their establishment.

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