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Adopt project based budgeting in Kenyan counties

COMMENTARY
By MOSES KURIA | January 3rd 2016

NAIROBI: There is no gainsaying that devolution has brought forth a lot of positive aspects. Yes, it has its own fair share of challenges but we are better off with devolution than without it. Some areas of this country have seen tarmac for the first time, thanks to devolution. Counties like Mandera can now perform surgical operations for the first time. We have counties rolling out technical and vocational training institutes, medical training colleges, milk processing centres and county industrial parks, all of which are transforming this nation.
While the foregoing is a statement of fact, we would be doing a great disservice to ourselves if we fail to point out the challenges facing the devolved units. The obvious one is that most of our counties are unsustainably small in a way that frustrates serious long term planning. They are just not viable. Secondly, our counties are competing to consume instead of competing to produce. We are competing to consume as if Kenya was a piece of hunted game.

While the Council of Governors is vocal on the amount and timing of the money that should be sent to counties, we do not hear them talk about the new domestic and foreign investment they have brought to the counties. Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua has been visible at photo opportunities with investors.

How many of these transition into actual investments? Counties are spending millions of shillings in investment conferences. How many of these culminate in setting up of industries?
Thirdly, the bloated counties are producing the new rural bourgeoise at the village level which is not bad if we can afford. While the President is operating with 20 Cabinet Secretaries and 40-odd PSs, their excellencies the governors have 470 ministers and over 1,000 PSs in the name of Chief Officers. Good grief! Next time a 4X4 fuel guzzler blows dust past you in a village, just shout ‘Hail Devolution!’ But the fourth and most serious challenge is the carte blanche approach given to our eminent governors. Let’s take a cursory comparison between counties and a model that has worked in this country - the Constituencies Development Fund (CDF).

Under CDF, constituencies have to submit their specific list of projects for approval to the Constituency Development Fund Board at the beginning of each financial year. If Narok East constituency submits and get approval to build four classrooms for Kipise Secondary school and in the middle of the year they change their minds and decide to build four classrooms, at the same cost, at Suswa Girls secondary, the national CDF Management Board must give written approval for that. Compare that with the quarter of a trillion shillings we send to the counties every year. There is no guideline on how the money is spent. A governor can decide on how to spend the money as he walks. He can walk past a group of youth and order that a playground is built. He then walks past a group of farmers and order that the money he had promised the youth for the playground be re-allocated to farmers for buying of coolers. All in a span of ten minutes and without recourse to anyone. Do not tell me about approval by county assemblies. You know what is happening there.

Do not even tell me about Kenya National Audit Office and other constitutional watchdogs. We all know their stretched capacity does not give them enough latitude to cover counties. The Council of Governors and the Controller of Budget should urgently sit down and create a County Project Approval Board to vet and approve all projects carried out by governors. We need to debate these things without being labelled anti-devolution.

The Macarthyist label of communism on every dissenting opinion on counties has been entrenched. We are for sensible devolution that matches realities of our time. But we are saying Punguza Mzigo because Punda Amechoka.

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