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Red flag over county budgets, low revenues

COUNTIES
By Stephen Makabila | January 12th 2014

By Stephen Makabila                 

The nationwide training programme for Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) has entered its second phase with the facilitation team raising the red flag over poor revenue generation in counties.

Counties have also been put on the spot for being behind schedule in the budget making process, high level of pending Bills before county assemblies, and weak oversight role by MCAs against executive committees.

“We are through with the first phase of the training where the 47 counties had been divided into 9 clusters. We hope the capacity building will enable MCAs to play their roles more effectively. The Second phase is going to be assessing how they implement the knowledge derived from the training,” said former Limuru MP Peter Mwathi, who is involved in the capacity building.

Mwathi and another member of the team, former Kinangop MP David Ngugi, noted low revenue generation at the counties mean low development, and that there is need for county governments to embrace electronic revenue collection and seal loopholes to boost income.

“Most counties are not generating their own funds and are solely depending on allocations from the central government,” observed Ngugi. Fourteen former MPs who served in the 10th Parliament are involved in the training sponsored by USAID, Westminster Foundation, Germany’s Gz and Canada’s CIDA foundation.

Before being co-opted into the programme, the former MPs had launched their own initiative dubbed the ‘Devolution Support Network’ to promote devolution education amongst members of county assemblies, county assembly service boards, and county executives among others.

“The Government saw our determination and initiative and decided to co-opt us into the programme, which was originally initiated by the TA, but whose current main facilitator financially is Usaid,” Mwathi who was accompanied by former Kinangop MP  David Ngugi told The Standard on Sunday. The capacity building programme, also being facilitated by the Centre for Parliamentary Studies and Training (CPST) and the Transitional Authority is tailored for the counties but also targets first term members of the National Assembly. The training followed the realisation that most MCAs were not well informed about constitutional and governance issues while up to 75 per cent of members of the National Assembly in the 11th parliament were new comers.

There had been fears that members of the county assemblies, county service boards and even the county executives had not fully synchronised the functions and mandates of county governments, and did not understand institutions created by the Constitution at the county level.

CPST prepared a curriculum detailing the courses that participants would study. The four targeted areas of training included the budget making process, oversight through assembly committees, the legislation process and the administration and management of Assemblies.

On the budget making process, Ngugi said most of the counties were lagging behind the timelines.

“The budget making process started last August but most counties have not developed integrated county strategic plans to guide them on the budget making process,” noted Ngugi. He said counties were supposed to have developed a County outlook paper on budget by September 30 and by February 28 this year, they should be firming-up their budgets.

Only 10 counties from the nine clusters are currently benefitting from the budgeting training programme sponsored by the West-minister Foundation. They include Bungoma, Bomet, West-Pokot, Laikipia, Nyandarua, Kitui, Tharaka-Nithi, Taita-Taveta, Tana-River and Homa-Bay.

“The remaining 37 counties could not be included because of limited resources. The 10 were picked for piloting programme,” added Ngugi.

Mwathi noted they had also established there were a high number of pending bills and that county assemblies need to fast track their legislation process.

“We have, however, recommended that when it comes to the Statement hour in the county assemblies, committees chairs should not be answering questions on behalf of the county executive. Chairpersons cannot play an oversight role and at the same time defend the county executives,” said Mwathi.

And commenting on the oversight role by the MCAs, Ngugi explained they have to be extra cautions for their own sake and the welfare of the counties.

“Penalties under the Public Finance Management Act are punitive. If this Act is violated, some MCAs and members of the county executives can end up in jail,” added Ngugi. He said there was need for members of the county executives to also be involved in capacity building training the way MCAs were benefitting. “Our interaction in the field has shown MCAs are now well versed with how counties should run better than members of the county executives. Unfortunately, sponsors only provide fund for training of MCAs,” added Ngugi.

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