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County, national governments tussle an unnecessary distraction

EDITORIAL
By Editorial | July 30th 2013

Kenya: There should be no argument that a devolved system of government is the best means of realising faster and sustained development as it is more responsive to Kenyans needs at the grassroots level.

But this is true only when the devolution is well structured, is participatory and accountable to the local people.

This is why the current debate over devolution is so unfortunate because it is producing a lot of smoke but little heat while the intended beneficiaries are still waiting for the promised services four months after the county governors were sworn into office.

Admittedly, the new system needed time to set up the necessary infrastructure because the new county government is different from the one used in the defunct local government authorities.

In view of this, the Transition Authority, after consultation with the National Treasury, sent some key personnel from the national government to help in costing the services that were to be devolved under the Constitution and help in the preparation of the budgets.

Stoking doubt

The quality of most of the budgets received at the offices of the Controller of Budget, however, raises serious doubts on whether the personnel sent to the counties were actually involved in their preparation.

The misplaced priorities evident in many of these budgets and the speed at which the process was conducted — with some taking less than 48 hours between presentation, debate and adoption — also raises fears that there was little or no public participation as provided for in the Constitution.

Indeed, there were instances where even certain County Assembly representatives were reportedly either sidelined or ignored leading to stalemates some of which have not been resolved to date.

Not surprisingly, the failure to present budgets that clearly prioritise areas that are of greatest concern to residents in each county has stoked doubts about the counties’ level of preparedness to receive and prudently utilise the Sh210 billion already factored into this year’s national budget.

Because that sum is far in excess of the mandatory 15 per cent of the national revenue provided for in the Constitution leads to fears that the governors and senators’ clamour for an eight per cent increase could be a red herring. Be that as it may be.

Perhaps, time has come when all the parties from across the political divide should agree that the national interest trumps their individual interests and sit down to deal with the real issues.

For one, at an estimated cost of Sh6 billion, the planned referendum is too expensive for the country that has yet to complete paying debts incurred during the March 4, 2013 general elections.

Technocrats

In addition, the country has been in campaign mode since the 1997 general elections and desperately needs a rest for its people to figure out how they can best improve their standard of living.

At the very least, a reduction in the cacophony over devolution will allow technocrats to assess the level of each county’s capacity to handle the already devolved functions and the amount of money that is needed to do it adequately.

The national government should then be duty-bound to release extra funds where necessary.

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