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Lessons from three generations of devolution

 Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua when he chaired an Extra-ordinary Session of the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council (IBEC) to further consult on the 2023/2024 Budget Policy Statement at his Harambee House Annex office on February 1, 2023. [PCS]

February 21, 2023, will be my 180th day of service as Laikipia County Governor - a remarkable comeback after serving as the pioneer governor at inception of the devolved units in 2013.

Six months may appear long for a constituent waiting for a service that has taken longer than promised or expected. On the other hand, it is a short period for a public servant working round the clock to deliver quality service.

By now it must be clear to all and sundry that the 2022 General Election is behind us. The heavy reality of service delivery expectations now squarely lies on the shoulders of winners, who have to come to terms with the fact that the world has significantly changed since the onset of devolution - and keeps changing.

The governors who ushered in devolution in 2013, faced a different set of challenges compared to the current.

For instance, when I became the inaugural Laikipia governor in 2013, I found myself at the deep end. Devolved governments were a puzzle. The arduous task of giving the new government units some form was upon the 47 of us, all first-time governors whose only lifeline, besides sheer determination to change the fortunes of our people, relied on the support of the then Transition Authority.

For such an ambitious historical experiment, the foundation of devolution in Kenya is well in place and growing strong. Fast forward to 2023, the third generation of county governments, and I find myself carrying the aspirations of 530,000 Laikipians on my shoulders once more. This time there are different challenges but, thankfully, with more experience.

The challenge for us, third-generation governors, is to produce results and apply an "ahead-of-the-schedule, under-budget" approach to government programmes. Towards this end and inspired by the international best practice of establishing innovation, service delivery and efficiency monitoring units at the centre-of-government, we must draw from the best of both worlds - bureaucracy's rigidity and entrepreneurial agility.

This involves a deliberate strategy to strengthen the centre of government by adopting "tools of business" to challenge the tedious bureaucracy and induce new energy in processes management, service delivery and organisational imagination.

In contrast to 2013, 2023 demands that governors make precise, flawless decisions in the backdrop of scarce public resources that are no longer available for experiments but for actual output and impact.

The centre of government, which is also the county government's research and development arm, must therefore re-imagine its role in innovative public initiatives financing for it to make sense. Mainstream government programmes such as roads, water, health and wellness, early childhood education and vocational training, are all in the budget appropriation.

However, financing the programmes under the centre of government will require an aggressive resource mobilisation framework and an extra-bureaucracy paradigm shift. Innovative financing models like Public Private Partnerships, Social Impact Bonds, Crowdfunding, Microfinancing, Green bonds, and Tax/levies/licensing Incentives and breaks must find their way into the county's legislative agenda.

Devolution, as envisioned in the 2010 Constitution, is our most daring democratic tryout as a republic. We have experienced devolution versions one (2013-2017) and two (2017-2022). We are now working through devolution version 3.

Peer imitation in structures and legislations dominated devolution version one. Version two was more of an extension of one with best-effort tryouts in making version one function.

Version three has a lot of experiences from the failures and triumphs of one and two and has the benefit of having lived through two relatively successful but not overly productive periods.

The third generation of devolved governments must leapfrog itself to 2023 and realities of today. Each of our 47 counties must find its uniqueness; in challenges and opportunities. They must get on their shortest path to prosperity.

We owe this, not only to our constituents but to the next generation of county leadership.

The writer is Laikipia Governor

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