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Devolution: The best medicine the doctor ordered for rural Kenya

By Standard Team | August 28th 2021

Former President Mwai Kibaki leading nation in promulgating the 2010 Constitution at Uhuru Park. Left, then-Attorney General Amos Wako. August 27, 2010. [File, Standard]

Devolution has been a game-changer as development has been felt in every corner of the country in spite of several challenges.

According to some of the governors interviewed by The Saturday Standard, counties have managed to roll out flagship projects that have transformed the countryside.

In Nyandarua, Governor Francis Kimemia acquired Sh500 million worth of road equipment after emerging first under the World Bank’s Kenya Devolution Support Programme (KDSP).

“With the equipment, we managed to rehabilitate our road network. That is why you never hear tales of bad roads in Nyandarua,’’ Kimemia said.

Although much has been achieved, the governor feels there’s room for improvement with more resources needed for the devolved units.

“That is why we, as Council of Governors are still pushing for the shareable revenue to be increased to a minimum of 35 percent,” he said. 

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi described devolution as ‘the best thing that has happened to Kenya since independence.’

Muriithi said that taking decision-making persons and powers closer to the people has fast-tracked government response to the needs of the people.

“It is better when we have a decision being made where the challenge is. It took ages to address the needs of the people directly from the central government,” said Ndiritu.

The governor cited rural and urban infrastructure, health and education sectors among the biggest beneficiaries of devolution.

Noting that majority of the counties have heavily invested in the health sector, the governor said that the impact is evident on statistics of declining child mortality and easy access to services.

Nakuru’s Lee Kinyanjui says devolution has seen the initiation of life-changing projects across the county, saying youth, women and farmers are among the greatest beneficiaries of projects that have improved their economic status.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Several projects implemented in the agriculture sector have transformed the lives of the residents and boosted food production.

The projects include the cattle auction in Solai, restocking of fish ponds, the launch of the union of dairy cooperatives, revival of pyrethrum sector and the launch of potato farmers and milk producers to push for better prices.

Others are a call centre at Agriculture Training Centre where farmers’ questions are addressed by experts.

But devolution has faced its fair of challenges that has sometimes put the county bosses at loggerheads with the national government.

There has been a tussle between governors and the National Treasury on the release of funds with devolved units going for months without money.

Kisii Governor James Ongwae, who is also the Council of Governors (CoG) vice-chair, says the matter has been discussed at all levels including at the summit which is attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“Nobody is going behind the claim of poor services to ask why funds have not been released.”

Ongwae says there is a need to increase budgetary allocation for health services to counties, failure to which other key departments including agriculture, education and roads will be affected.

The National Government retains nearly 80 per cent of resources in the health department, a move that the Council says is unnecessary, arguing that this is a conversation that should be taken to the floor of the Upper and Lower houses.

“Three-quarters of the counties are spending almost 45 per cent of their funds on health services. Most counties didn’t have both infrastructure and equipment.”

Kisii Governor James Ongwae. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Laboratories in various countries now have bio-medical equipment. Most hospitals did not have critical machines; they now have HDU and ICU facilities,” Ongwae says, adding that Kisii had only 17 doctors and only two specialists’ doctors.

Under devolution, he says Kisii has had an improved water system of 27 million litres of water from 12 million.

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga described devolution as an accelerator of development for the counties and specifically the rural and marginalised areas of this country.

“The fact Kieni Constituency which is 52 per cent land area of Nyeri had no Level 4 hospital. But with devolution the county has built a state the facility in just two years,” he notes.

Extensive road networks funded by county governments have opened up rural communities which previously would not have happened.

He explained devolution had addressed social and economic issues for citizens in a more effective and faster way than had been the case before devolution.

“The solutions kick-started by the counties are numerous and impactful, mango-processing in Makueni, and improved education standards in Kilifi and West Pokot, the numbers and transformation speak to devolution’s success.

Unfortunately, the county governments have faced challenges as fully devolved functions have not received the resources allocated to them.

“It is unfortunate that while Health is a devolved function most of the money is allocated to the National Government ministry leaving counties like Nyeri grappling with cash-strapped health services,” he explained.

Kahiga noted that there is unhealthy competition between county and national governments because of political interests.

“Both national and county government leaders are thinking about their re-elections and unfortunately one arm of government takes the lion’s share of the resources at the expense of the public,” he warned.

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

He said other devolved functions such as water and agriculture had experienced national government interference due to the resistance to release requisite funds and powers.

Kahiga also highlighted the continued harassment of county governments through the delayed disbursement of funds from the National Treasury to counties affecting payment of salaries and smooth running of their affairs.

“Why are counties being denied the autonomy and funding to run their affairs?” he wondered.

Kahiga also described the passing of crucial laws touching on counties without involving the Senate as an affront to devolution.

Muranga Governor Mwangi wa Iria said devolution has proved to be the best economic model on rural economy as it has alleviated poverty through programmes that were previously centralised.

CoG chair Martin Wambora said devolution has helped Embu in the areas of health, infrastructure, youth development and agriculture.

He said the county government had prioritised health care provision by allocating one-third of its annual budget to the docket to ensure people can easily access to hospitals.

Kirinyaga boss Anne Waiguru said devolution has been successful to the extent that development has been decentralised and implementation accelerated at the grassroots.

[Kennedy Gachuhi, Erick Abuga, Lydia Nyawira, Ndungu Gachane and Muriithi Mugo]

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