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Kenya: Governors have warned that a national referendum is almost inevitable, but distanced themselves from the one driven by the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), saying they would pursue their own national referendum to address key devolution challenges.

The county chiefs last year pushed for a plebiscite but lost steam after the national government indicated it would address funding issues they had raised.

Dissatisfied with funding from the Treasury, they have renewed their calls for a vote by Kenyans, arguing the national government had become ‘extremely reluctant’ to increase revenue allocation to counties despite the fact that most functions have been devolved.

They have now scheduled a governors consultative meeting for July 30 to build consensus and discuss ways through which they can lobby for the referendum agenda, which they claim will allow Kenyans to have a say on a number of devolution challenges.

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Council of Governors chairman Isaac Ruto, however, clarified their renewed push is not in sync with the calls by CORD leaders, who have also been agitating for a national referendum. “We are not aware of any other call for a referendum and if there is, then may be they can come on board. But for us, it is extremely important that Kenyans make a choice on the issues we have raised,” Ruto said.

CORD wants a national referendum to address challenges facing the country, including increase in funding of counties, corruption, insecurity among others.

Ruto, who is also the Bomet Governor, accused the Jubilee administration of using the National Assembly to scuttle the funding of some devolved functions with an aim of reverting them back to the national government. “The decision by Parliament to decide to deny funding to the Level 5 hospitals is a manifestation of the national government’s determination to take back devolved health services,” Ruto said.

Devolution laws

The governors are also pushing for a referendum to strengthen devolution laws to allow counties participate in infrastructural development in primary and secondary schools. Currently, county governors are responsible for only Early Childhood Development (ECD) education as their only devolved function in respect to education.

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Wajir Governor Ahmed Abdullahi said there was need for Kenyans to decide on how much of the national revenue they want devolved to counties so that the allocation is predictable and certain. “The issues about funding for counties should be agreed on and closed to allow county governments focus on service delivery. What we are seeing now is that we are going through circles,” Abdullahi said.

He said although governors belong to several political parties, they had unanimously agreed that there was need to increase revenue to counties.

“We understand that as Council of Governors, when it comes to politics we will never agree but we concur that we need to increase funding to counties,” he added.

He warned against personalising the push for a national referendum, saying Kenyans will never realise the full benefits of devolution unless the new system is well funded.

“We want our motive to be genuine. We are pushing for more allocation to counties and strengthening of the Senate so that Kenyans can reap the fruits of devolution,” he added.

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Meru Governor Peter Munya said the upcoming governors conference next week would provide a framework with regard to the push for a national referendum. “Being a Jubilee member, I would advise the government to move fast and increase revenue allocation to the counties because more functions are now devolved,"   he said.

Munya asked the national government to carry out a costing survey of the functions already devolved to the counties alongside the number of devolved functions to determine whether it was any longer practical to peg the allocation at a minimum of 15 per cent.

Do or die

“The push for a referendum will only fade if the government increase revenue allocation. it is the government which is keeping it alive by denying counties funding. Counties spend more than 70 per cent of their revenue on recurrent expenditure,” Munya added.

The governors were speaking at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), upon arrival from as study tour in the US where they said they learnt that the same devolution challenges facing the country were equally experienced by the US in the formative stages.

Governors have resolved to push for amendment of the Constitution to among other things raise revenue allocated to counties to at least 40 per cent. Currently, the law says allocation should not be less than 15 per cent of the national revenue.

In the current financial year, counties were allocated Sh226 billion up from the Sh210 billion they received last year.

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