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Let us guard against latest attempts to kill devolution

By The Standard | September 6th 2020

The latest threat by governors to shut down counties over lack of money to pay staff salaries must be taken seriously. It is unfortunate that even as Kenyans mark ten years of the 2010 Constitution, the biggest gain from the new dispensation, devolution, is under threat.

Devolution is being undermined by several factors including lethargy from the central government and corrupt or incompetent governors. It is therefore unfortunate that some self-serving senators have joined in the derailment of the devolution dream. Kenyans hoped for a real change of fortunes by adopting a system of governance that devolved power and resources to the grassroots, hence the 47 counties.

The fact is, since Independence, sections of the country have remained underdeveloped largely due to marginalisation. The effects of this reality can be felt to date. And when the current Constitution was promulgated in 2010, there was a glimmer of hope that the situation would change for the better.

A new system of government which involved introduction of the devolved units, it was hoped, would take services closer to the people. However, ten years later, Kenya seems to be stuck in a rut. The stalemate over the revenue sharing formula in the Senate is threatening the existence of counties.

Whether by design or default, devolution is slowly being choked. It started with a tussle between the national government and counties over who keeps the larger share of revenue. Counties have always got the short end of the stick as revenue hovers below the constitutionally mandated threshold mainly due the question on audited accounts to base it on. Remember, for over a year, Kenya operated without an auditor-general which most definitely led to the audits falling back.

Now, as senators fight over the formula, it is not representative of the situation. It must be remembered that the fight is still over the 15 per cent while the rest is with the national government. For a record nine times, senators have failed to agree on a formula. Attempts to break the deadlock through a committee failed even after the same team gave a false alert of having struck a deal. And it seems the stalemate will persist.

Caught in this mix are 47 county units and the Council of Governors has issued a threat to shut down operations within two weeks. All these point to one thing: the death of devolution.

While governors are crying foul, Kenyans are also being treated to drama surrounding corruption at the county level. Three governors have faced the courts while two more are on the radar. This also tells us that in most of the counties, resources are being used for private gain rather than public good. It begs the question: What will the governors do with increased allocation?

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Unless and until we accept that Kenya is one country and that no part is better than the other, increased resources to counties will not mean much. Unless we decide to root out the evil of corruption, devolved funds will continue leaking to unintended accounts.

The fact that the Senate cannot agree on such a critical issue tells a lot about the quality of leaders we elect as a nation.

It would not be shocking if in the end of all this drama, Kenyans find that the fight for more resources was not even about them after all, but a scheme to line some pockets.

This is the time that Kenyans have to ask their leaders to stand up for what Independence heroes fought for. Devolution must work but at the same time, punishment for theft of public resources must be made costly. 

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