Don’t give up on quest for more equitable Kenya

The current contentious debate in the Senate on the horizontal revenue allocation formula among counties reveals the lack of political goodwill to end legal, systemic and institutionalised marginalisation.  This formula does not exist or emerge in a vacuum, but is rooted in political machinations and ideologies of those who control the dominant knowledge system that has informed economic policies responsible for sustaining regional privilege and ethnic cleavages.

The proposals on the new revenue sharing formula is a clear sign that though legally regional discrimination might have been terminated, structural, social and systematic discrimination still thrives. The dominant philosophy of public policy continues to mirror the same exclusivity and discrimination that were legally institutionalised by the Sessional Paper No 10 in April 1965 by a cabal of bureaucrats. Kenyans must be reminded that the idea of the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) as an independent commission emerged as a response to the (traditional) skewed allocation of revenue.

 The Constitution provides for commissions and independent offices as an avenue to better cushion Kenya’s national interests against transient executive policy choices. Until the enactment of the 2010 Constitution, all revenue allocations were centralised under the national government. Because of the pervasive absence of a culture of nationhood and the extent of fragmentation in the society, most distribution of national resources were based on ethnic, regional or political interests.

The exclusion of many ethnic communities is the legacy of colonial rule and decades-long centralised, ethnicised and a personalised presidential system. Concerned by the entrenched economic inequalities, the Constitution devised counties to disburse a minimum of 15 per cent of nationally generated fiscal revenue to the 47 counties.

Additionally, it sought to ensure equity was the overriding consideration in sharing revenue among the 47 counties. The CRA was created to safeguard this intention and is mandated to develop a sharing formula every five years. In conceptualising its mandate, the CRA must thus bear in mind this twisted legacy of our economic history and adopt a holistic and not just a positivist approach. Such an approach will integrate an appreciation of historically skewed allocations in favour of some regions the net effect of which have been to render these regions more attractive to diverse economic activities.

Factoring in an amortised perspective of investment in roads in 1960 would provide clarity in what the present value of such an investment could have accrued to a beneficiary region. To understand fully the institutionalised discrimination patent in the proposed formula, it is important to recognise that, whereas 70 per cent of Kenya’s revenue remains with the national government, the formula does not take this into consideration, yet we know the degree of political expediency that underpins national government’s distribution of this revenue across various counties through infrastructural and social development programmes.

 Then on the basis of only the 30 per cent allotted to counties, the commission designs the formula presently before the Senate, where again it proceeds to attach much weight to population and disregards its responsibility to assign equal weight to regional economic disparities and the need for affirmative action in favour of disadvantaged regions.