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Ward funds can be a real game changer

OPINION
By Suleiman Shahbal | March 2nd 2021

There are two Kenyas in our country; rural and urban. Most of us come from rural areas but somehow find ourselves living in the big cities. In fact, we have even coined a name for our rural homes, which we call “shags.” The rural areas were the least developed, where even minimal facilities often lacked.

Over the years, massive rural-urban migration led to large parts of the cities looking like shags. Today, parts of our urban areas lack basic facilities and could, at best, be called slums. We talk of marginalisation as a process that afflicted many rural constituencies, particularly in North Eastern Kenya, the Coast and some other areas, and ignored that many parts of our cities are also marginalised.

I have visited every corner of Mombasa, Kenya's second-largest city, and there are some areas that do not look like a city. They lack the most basic of facilities such as water, sewerage systems, schools, clinics, social centres and power. Some affirmative action has to be taken to correct this situation. The same applies to many cities in Kenya.

In 2010, I proposed the creation of Ward Funds in Mombasa and for setting aside of Sh50 million per ward. Based on the expected county revenues that would have amounted to 15 per cent of the county budget. In 2012, this was entrenched in the County Government Act of 2012, Section 50 to 53.

Taking money directly to the wards would have clear political, social and economic benefits, and would change the city if managed properly. First, these funds should have clear objectives. They have to be used to set up a youth centre, clinics, women centres, social halls, police post, playgrounds for children and a small community fund for local social issues. Youth centres would not just be playgrounds but places where the youth can be trained on entrepreneurship and how to access government funds and grants.

In the first year, they can set up a clinic and within five years with continuous injection of funds, it can develop into a mini-hospital. Medical facilities are sadly lacking in towns. Alternatively, the community could opt to build five clinics over five areas. They should set up women centres dedicated to dealing with women's issues. In most areas of Mombasa, children do not have safe or even simple playgrounds with swings.

It is ridiculous that 58 years after independence, pregnant women are taken to hospitals in Tuk-tuks. Every ward should buy its own ambulance. Ward funds are a recognition that local people know their problems, immediate priorities and solutions. Had this been done, every ward in Mombasa would have had its own mini hospital, social centre and women's centre by now, along with many playgrounds. It could have changed the face of Mombasa. 

These funds should be managed by the community in line with specific guidelines. The local MCA would work with a committee comprised of elders, women and youth, and supported by county staff to manage these funds and facilities. All these people could even be paid nominal salaries for their efforts. In the process, we will identify and train emergent local leaders at the youth and women's levels. This is devolving government and giving ownership to the ground. Only insecure MPs would resist it.

There are a lot of people who feel there is discrimination and favouritism in the distribution of bursaries at the constituency level. If such funds are devolved to the ward level, then local people would do the distribution. There would be more accountability. The same would apply with Constituency Development Funds (CDF).

Management skills

Leadership is creating vision. Set up the ward funds with a clear strategy aligned with local community needs. Second, we should also empower and allow the local community to decide their priorities. Third is to enable, give them the funds to manage. Empowerment without facilitation does not work. Finally, energise; recognise and celebrate successful ward managers. They will become the next class of political leaders with proven management skills developed at the ward.

Devolving leadership and management of resources at the ground is the true meaning of devolution. Today BBI proposes the allocation of 5 per cent of County funds to the wards. In the case of Mombasa, this would amount to Sh11 million per ward. This amount would have no impact. I propose Sh50 million or 15 per cent of the total county budget. We should implement this as soon as possible. It is only by taking extraordinary measures and do things differently that we can truly change our country.

-Mr Shahbal is chairman of Gulf Group of [email protected] 

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