Wednesday, May 27, 2020

As expected, the political wrangling was bound to start right after the election. With the petition out of the way, it was time to get down to work. Even the swearing in of the President elect could not deter it. This time though, on the increasingly emotional matter of devolution that is zealously regarded accross the political divide. To most Kenyans, meaningful devolution underpinned the endorsement of the 2010 constitution. It addresses the national concern about power sharing and equitable resource allocation.

The nation is irredeemably psyched into this new political dispensation and any attempt, real or perceived, that undermines it was bound to raise temperatures. The people wanted some latitude to exercise grassroots democracy by cascading some political authority to the counties through the institution of governors, and to prioritize their development agenda. And the Constitution just gave them that! They will get a slice of the national cake and decide how to savour it.

The President goofed big time when he told off our governors. No one has challenged the unity of our sovereign nation, nor has anyone challenged his powers. The governors simply called for operationalisation of the counties in accordance with the law. My governor is the president of my county government; this cannot be wished away. And like every president, he rightfully yarns for the trappings of power that go with his office. A motorcade, a national and county flag on his car, the power to appoint his cabinet, a fully resourced treasury that his government will spend as approved by his county assembly, etc.

Folks at home expect nothing less. In the campaigns, we told them about the powers he has in the constitution, about the big money that will flow in the county and a whole new government that will change the face of the county. And so when the governor was sworn in but without an office and a residence, that he does not have a motorcade, no flags, National Treasury sends a pittence as 'our resources', what does the President expect? The folks will revolt, and is manifest in the agitation by the governors. The county government is worthy of respect and priviledges, not as a favour but a right explicit in the letter and spirit of the constitution.

The Natonal Treasury mandarins have never been at ease with devolved government; partly out of ignorance that they will be rendered irrelevant, and partly because they have to play ball with IMF that worries about the economic and financial impact of the liberal allocation of funds to counties. They had a major tiff with local government ministry last year when the Public Financial Management Act (PFMA) was being formulated. Cheserem's Commission on Revenue Allocation equally had a difficult time getting the Treasury to accept what constitutes revenue to be allocated to the counties, and how much should be availed to the counties for the remaining period to 30th June 2013.

The Treasury should appreciate that effective operationalisation of the counties would in the long term lead to baking of a bigger cake nationally. Successful county operations would enhance economic activties that would yield more opportunities for tax collection by KRA. The 15% disbursement to the 47 counties is pretty small, relative to the 85% left to the National Treasury to manage. The Treasury is being pennywise and pound foolish to placing hindrances in the disbursement of these 15%.

Nonetheless, their decision to prepare itemised budget guidelines for each county for this year is in line with the Transition County Appropriation Act passed by Parliament last year. These funds were voted by the House to cover the salaries and expenses for the last quarter of this year. As we prepare for the 2013/14 budget, it is clear that the counties will not have the time to prepare their respective budgets in accordance with the PFMA, and will have to build an adhoc budget around the funds they will receive.

Devolution is a bread and butter issue and the incoming Uhuru government will have to tread carefully. There are elaborate mechanisms for resolving conflicts between both levels of governments, such as the Inter-Governmental Relations Act that establishes the national and county government's coordination summit, and the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, among others.

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