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Failures of counties killing the devolution promise

By Kamotho Waiganjo | May 1st 2016

While it is tempting to enter into the IEBC fray, I must first complete my overview of devolution by outlining some of the major failures of devolved governments in their short life span. Let me be clear, what I am discussing is not the failure of devolution, but of devolved governments. These terms must not be used interchangeably, especially because we as citizens can change devolved governments to improve devolution.

Secondly, what I am describing are general failures exhibited in a significant number of county governments. They do not necessarily reflect the experience of each County; ideally, each should be assessed separately. What then have been the significant challenges of these governments? One of the major reasons for devolution was to eliminate exclusion. While devolution has reduced this at the national level, the exclusion tree is flourishing in many Counties.

Exclusion in the Counties exhibits through skewed employment and partisan development. Persons from ethnic or clan minorities find it difficult to obtain significant jobs in the County. The statutory requirement for a minimum 30 per cent employment from the non-dominant groups is regularly flouted.

On development, resource allocation in some Counties takes a political bend, so that areas in which the sitting government is not popular are discriminated in allocation of County resources, a devolved “siasa mbaya maisha mbaya”.

The other failure of devolved governments has been growing corruption, theft and mismanagement of County resources. Last week I was looking though the spending report in one of the County governments and was left with a sinking feeling. In one month alone, a sum of over Sh40 million had been withdrawn from the County Coffers in cash. The withdrawals included a sum of Sh1.75 million for the upkeep of the County First Lady. These figures may not look like much but they are the equivalent of the National government withdrawing Sh9 billion in cash in one month of which Sh400 million was for expenses for the First Lady! Other Counties pay for major contractual services through cash imprests, the surest way to hide graft, and is in any event a contravention of public finance laws. What is saddest is that many of the offending Counties are some of the poorest or most historically marginalised.

When I asked how the Governor of one offending County could get away with such brazen misconduct I was told that he has the total support of the political decision makers, and so was assured of re-election, his performance notwithstanding. This behavior even though it is not in the majority of Counties is giving the National government legitimacy when it paints Counties as irredeemably corrupt. It also gives a bad impression of County governments especially when paralleled with the lack of development in these Counties.

The third failure of devolved governments is involving the citizenry in decision-making. Two failures are evident here. Civic education, which was to empower the people to participate in public affairs and hold their governments accountable, is for all purposes dead. Even Civil society and the Church gave up on educating the citizen. Only a handful of County governments, which are required by law to establish civic education initiatives, have done so. The lack of awareness by the citizen leads to non-existent or non-effective public participation. Even where it occurs it is largely tokenistic. Many forums I have attended seek to comply with the letter of the law as opposed to genuinely seeking the views of the citizenry.

The County governments are also by law required to make public a host of information particularly on the budget process. Many Counties do not release these documents and those who do ensure the documents are not citizen friendly.

The reality is that these failures of County governments are miniscule when compared to the less obvious but more lethal failures of the National government.

But because so much of citizens’ hope is reposed in County governments, the failures have a devastating effect on the national psyche and are preventing devolution from delivering its promise. What worries me is that devolution is the last bastion of hope for an agitated and hope-denied citizenry. Are we, leaders and benefiting elite, willing to contemplate what will happen if it does not deliver?

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