Speed up county funds release, a lot is at stake

Governors Cecily Mbarire, Ann Waigúrú, Kawíra Mwangaza and Múthomi Njúkí during a Thanksgiving service at St Francis Secondary School. [Stafford Ondefo, Standard]

Threats by governors to shut down counties should the Treasury fail to disburse Sh94.35 billion to them have highlighted the extent to which the ongoing cash crunch has crippled services.

The county chiefs demanded that the Treasury releases arrears for February, March and April in 14 days failure to which they would grind to a halt.

Emerging from a stormy meeting in Nairobi on Monday, the governors – in a show of discontentment – also claimed devolution was under direct threats from the national government.

The county bosses revisited the manner the Senate voted on the Division of Revenue Bill, 2023 last week when it rejected an amendment that would have seen the devolved units get Sh407 billion as equitable share in the Financial Year 2023/24. The National Treasury had proposed an allocation of Sh385.4 billion, an increment of Sh15.4 billion from the current financial year’s allocation of Sh370 billion. Council of Governors (CoG) chair Ann Waiguru went further to allege attempts by the national government to claw back on devolution gains by seeking to micromanage county governments mandate on revenue collection as prescribed under Article 209(4) of the Constitution.

The Treasury and CoG have been at loggerheads over revenue since 2013. In 2019, CoG moved to court to challenge Treasury’s decision to block funding for 17 counties, which had not cleared their bills and had not submitted a plan for doing so. In 2021, the governors moved to court again to compel the Treasury to release their equitable allocation.

Now, the situation is worrisome, with governors struggling to acquire loans from banks to pay staff salaries, fund healthcare and handle emergencies. While the national government is under immense pressure to meet different financial obligations, the ping pong over funding, we fear, will cripple services and affect development projects. We urged Treasury to cut the delays at all costs to enable counties operate at optimum. Counties too must now raise their own revenues in a dependable manner. Improved capacity to collect revenue is a key performance indicator of devolution. Let there be improved communication between counties and national government.