Counties to take over assets of defunct local authorities

State Department for Devolution Principal Secretary Teresia Mbaika. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The government has launched the second phase of the transfer of multi-billion-shilling assets from defunct local authorities to counties amid fears of massive grabbing of land and embezzlement during the transition period.

The State Department for Devolution launched the exercise in Mombasa County on Tuesday which involves the assessment and valuation of land and buildings in 30 counties.

State Department for Devolution Principal Secretary Teresia Mbaika, said the exercise followed a directive by President William Ruto on December 18 last year and is expected to be concluded in the next 60 days.

Mbaika announced that the department was to conclude the valuation of the registrable assets related to the devolved functions and formally hand over the assets to county governments.

Speaking during the launch attended by Mombasa county government officials, the PS said the exercise is a significant milestone in devolution aimed at empowering counties to undertake development projects.

However, concerns over the potential grabbing and embezzlement of property during and after the transition period have been raised.

Ms Mbaika underscored the importance of finalizing the valuation and transfer of assets to secure ownership rights for the devolved units.

She said a multi-agency technical task force will ensure transparency and accountability throughout the process.

"Our presence here today, therefore, affirms our commitment in concluding this exercise to ensure that the county governments are adequately resourced to carry out their Constitutional mandates," said Mbaika.

The valuation, covering movable assets, land, and buildings, is being conducted in phases across 30 counties, aligning with the National Treasury guidelines on assets and liabilities management in the Public Finance Management Act.
The PS said the Intergovernmental Technical Relations Committee is actively working on modalities to effect the transfer of assets to respective counties.

Mbaika called for diligence, transparency, accountability, and effective oversight mechanisms to safeguard the assets for the benefit of the respective counties and their constituents and attributed the delay in transferring the assets to a lack of financial and human resources for the teams.

Mombasa Deputy Governor Francis Thoya said the transfer of assets was long overdue and should have been completed during the inception of devolution more than ten years ago.

Thoya was optimistic that the transfer of assets holds the promise of enhancing development opportunities at the counties.

He said it was imperative to address concerns about potential grabbing and embezzlement of assets during the transition period.

"The delay to transfer the assets to the county governments has presented an opportunity for grabbers and embezzlers. However, with the transfer process now, their days are numbered and the county governments will take action immediately when they are handed over ownership rights," he said.

The State Department for Devolution has been carrying out the valuation of assets in the counties for the last year jointly with the Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee (IGRTC), Council of Governors (COG), the National Treasury, National Lands Commission and the State Department for Lands among others.

The valuation is expected to safeguard and secure proprietary ownership of the assets of national and county governments, and confer to county governments legal ownership of the registrable assets of the defunct local authorities and assets of the national government relating to devolved functions.

The exercise is also expected to provide data for the update of county asset registers for accounting purposes in compliance with the National Treasury guidelines on assets and liabilities management in the public sector.

The first phase involving 25 counties concluded in April 2022 but realised a completion rate of only 45 per cent.

"Due to the intensity of the exercise, extensive collaboration will be required between the two levels of government to ensure that the set strict timelines are adhered to," said Mbaika.

The PS said the Department of Lands will be taking the lead in the exercise since it has the relevant expertise on land and buildings.