As we count down to the 5th Devolution Conference in Kakamega, many Kenyans may not give the event much attention partially due to the other topical and competing news in the media. Yet, the conference is a key national milestone.
It presents an opportunity for the country to take stock of the gains realised since the rollout of county governments five years ago. The forum will also be a timely platform for the new crop of governors to articulate their common vision for the county governments for the 2018-2022 planning cycle.
Furthermore, the conference will engage on how the county governments will align themselves with the National Government’s Big Four agenda.
This particular aspect is important to the National Government because collaboration between the two levels of government will ensure a seamless and coherent implementation of programmes in the four priority areas.
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Truly, devolution has transformed Kenya. So far, we have witnessed value-addition county-driven initiatives such as infrastructural development, including upgrading of rural access roads; development of markets; provision of water for both irrigation and domestic use; delivery of agricultural and extension services; facilitation of early childhood development (ECD); enhancement of access to health care; and the creation of investment and trading blocs.
Counties have become key focal points in actualising the constitutional obligations of enhancing access to information and promoting public-participation in policy-making and development processes.
Going forward, devolution holds even greater prospects of fundamental and progressive changes in our politics and the economy.
In line with the conference theme, one would then ask – what opportunities abound towards making county government sustainable, productive, effective and efficient?
First, county governments must align themselves effectively to the Kenya Vision 2030, specifically the Third-Medium Term Plan (2018-2022).
Indeed, county governments are the key agents of delivering the Vision 2030 priorities, including the Big Four agenda.
The starting point for counties will be to ensure that their County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) are well aligned with the Vision’s Third-Medium Term Plan and to other key global development initiatives, particularly the UN led Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the AU’s Agenda 2063.
Truly, the realization of sustainable and equitable development in all corners of the 47 counties requires the recognition of the collaborative roles of both levels of governments.
For example, under the Big Four agenda, counties will play many roles in enhancing manufacturing, food security and nutrition, and providing universal health coverage and affordable housing, depending on the niche and resource endowments in the respective regions.
THE BIG FOUR AGENDA
To demonstrate, cotton growing counties can support the manufacturing sector by according priority to textile industry; promoting the use of modern farming techniques, including use of hybrid seeds, skills development, construction of modern ginneries and textile manufacturing plants, training youth and women and establishing industrial sheds in the localities.
County governments should also strengthen their systems and processes to enable them to effectively address the fundamental challenges that have continued to dog them, including underutilisation of budgetary resources, weak revenue collection structures and loopholes that diminish the counties’ own source revenue base.
Furthermore, governors should formulate and implement urgent measures to address governance challenges, including corruption and utilization of budgetary resources on non-core activities such as benchmarking tours.
To address the irregular and delayed disbursement of funds from the Exchequer-that often impact on service delivery- counties should design other ways of revenue generation.
Though operational challenges have to a large extent been addressed, there is need for deeper reforms, capacity building and restructuring of the County Public Service to ensure optimal delivery of services and adaptability to emerging citizen and service needs.
Lastly, good intergovernmental relations between the national and county governments is a key success factor in the long-term fortification of county governments.
More importantly, counties should also engage in inter-county blocs to advance their mutual economic, social and cultural development.