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Why I disagree with BBI on increasing devolution funds

By Nashon Okowa | December 14th 2019 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

There is no doubt that devolution has had its share of success in the last seven or so years. It has also experienced myriad challenges. Perhaps more than its successes? Maybe. But one glaring issue we can all agree about is that majority of county development projects have been hopelessly ineffective. Yet the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, at this juncture of rebooting our country, fails to immaculately pronounce itself on this issue.

I have posited before that amid the sustained challenges of devolution, the substantive waterloo remains the palpable poor management of development project. And to that far the BBI findings concur. It states in Chapter 9 that, “…they (Kenyans) want development projects to receive enough oversight to prevent wastage. Kenyans want means to report projects that are shoddily developed and to see this information acted on by the relevant institutions.”

The report further acknowledges that one of the challenges identified that has hampered service delivery in counties is the arbitrary, nepotistic or crony recruitment of human resource that ignores merit. Let me first put things into perspective, currently counties averagely spend about a mere 30 per cent of total county allocations on development projects. Of this, huge amounts have gone to waste through corruption but more so through poor project implementation. Our counties are littered with shoddy projects of proportional time and cost overruns.

Yet the BBI report only gives lousy, open-ended recommendations to such a fundamental issue to devolution. The report merely recommends a stronger oversight response by responsible bodies. Nothing new. Further it advocates for actions to cut wasteful costs but fails to point the actions and then proceeds, without any attempt to address the current wastes, to approve that money be allocated to counties and the ratio of development spending to recurrent expenditure in the counties should match the national one at 70:30.

My expectation was that the report would acknowledge the glaring inadequacy of qualified construction professionals in our counties to even manage the current development allocation before pushing for more funds.

The report should have strongly centralised the role of construction professional regulatory bodies to counties and recommended their involvement to ensure counties are well stocked with qualified professionals that can properly execute county development projects to avert wastage and shoddy work.

In a country where construction is still viewed as business for all rather than a profession, every Tom, Dick and Harry have become contractors in our counties.

From teachers, to village heads everyone is on path, if not yet, to registering a construction company and the scramble for county loot through shoddy construction work is a devolution revelation. We must cure this mess once and for all. And that cure cannot be more resource allocation.

As it is I vehemently disagree with BBI report recommendation that county development allocation be increased to 70 per cent without addressing the inadequacy in skilled manpower to manage projects. For the record, I’m not against increasing revenue to counties. But I too have been a witness to the wastage through shoddily executed projects.

Allocating money to county wards and increasing development ratio cannot be the antidote to this malady. On this front there is no veneration for the BBI team, they lacked courage to state the obvious and instead chose the appeasing card. We must correct this in our ongoing national debate. This is the time.

- The writer is chairman of Association of Construction Managers of Kenya. [email protected]


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