Rapid urbanisation brought about by devolution has necessitated a relook at how urban counties should be funded to cope up with increased demand for essential services.
In all fairness, the unique challenges facing Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Uasin Gishu County are large and complex, requiring a major shift in our approach to funding urban counties.
To put this into perspective, The United Nations predicts that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, posing unique infrastructural challenges for African and Asian countries, where 90 per cent of the growth is predicted to take place.
The urban centres play host to millions of working Kenyans who either work or reside within the urban limits. Increased rural urban movement, urban population boom and depreciating financial resources are stretching their ability to meet demand for service delivery.
Of particular concern is the need to allocate resources for the development of slum areas in major urban centres.
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Issues such as piped water, provision of sanitation, solid waste management and drainage are services on which counties in these areas need additional assistance. Many policymakers believe the challenge of managing urban centres has now become central to the success of devolution.
It has become obvious that additional investment and funding allocation to these major urban towns is imperative if they are to meet the residents’ expectations. Investment in addressing these challenges comes with huge outlay which the counties cannot adequately absorb.
For this reason, The Commission on Revenue Allocation is currently working on a proposed report to support additional funding for cities in form of conditional grants.
The conditional grants will not only play a vital role in providing financial support for urban counties, but equally improve the governance of these major towns and cities. The grant will place much emphasis on prudent financial management to expand the necessary infrastructure for water and sanitation, energy, transportation, ensure equal access to essential services and reduce the number of people living in slums.
It is, however, imperative that these urban counties increase their own revenue source. The commission has developed a scientific model that can assist counties factually and realistically set revenue targets according to their internal technical and financial capacity. Gradually, as we continue to collaborate with counties, we will learn where capacity needs to be built and what systems really work in each urban county.
One of the unexplored avenues that counties should now consider is how to bring the private sector into these development plans. Public private partnerships provide a useful key in unlocking finances and technical expertise needed to tackle these challenges with focus on demonstrating environmental efficiency as well as integrating the socio-economic needs that are borne out of rapid urbanisation.
Despite the critical importance of infrastructure for urban development, financing remains an immense challenge. The case to increase funding allocation to these urban centres is even more pronounced when sized up from a purely economic perspective.
The urban centres have become central to the economic growth of the country, affecting how our economy grows and how resources are allocated.
All these require a robust and high quality urban infrastructure that sustains the competitive edge of these urban economies. Basic sanitation and drainage, especially in the slums, is now becoming a fundamental right in sustaining human dignity.
It is also important to recognise that even as the commission proposes to increase funding for these urban counties, much attention will be placed on ensuring projects initiated by the respective counties achieve value for money. Sustainability planning will be integrated in the financing model as well as provision of technical assistance to these five counties.
The provision of technical assistance is essential if these counties are to plan, finance, manage and coordinate sustainable urban infrastructure. Seizing this opportunity requires a critical re-think of funds allocation and active involvement of all stakeholders.
In spite of the challenges, the current moment provides an ample opportunity to address the unique challenges. Indeed, just as these five towns and cities continue to expand at a rapid rate, the leadership will need to start thinking not only of the demands of the current population, but also those of future generation.
Mr Mwenda is a lawyer and communication professional.