Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Accountability, Coordination and Participation Challenge in the Devolved System

Picking from the previous post and still on public finances, accountability in the use of resources was expected to be and has indeed been a challenge. There have been cases of corruption in almost every county and sector. How do we ensure that the county leaderships do not run the county accounts dry? especially as they prepare for next elections? What about those who do not expect to win the elections and thus are trying to recoup their cash by whatever means. Yet the capacity and role of the respective county assemblies to provide has not been as strong in dealing with oversight issues. In a rising practice of perdiemocracy (where all public engagements are reduced to what brings perdiem/allowances i.e. travel, meetings out of duty station, unnecessary meetings) and tenderprenuership (the angling through proxies for public contracts by public officials who should not benefit from such) how do we ensure that the MCAs and key county officials rise above. Are the County Assemblies as currently constituted able to execute their oversight role? Do they have the necessary capacity? Do they have the necessary incentive and public pressure to conduct their work without fear and favour? I hold the view that one of the ways to address corruption is to reduce the premium placed on elective and senior appointed offices in the public sector. That would reduce the resources one has to spend to get to these positions. These are critical questions that we need to reflect on as we enter into the fourth year of devolved government. Finances will remain limited buts it’s the commitment to get the most out of what we have that will see us develop our country. 

At an operational level in county governments, it was expected that there would be an urgent matter of clarifying who was responsible for what. This was at different levels, between the county and national government ministries and agencies, between county government and constituency development fund, and between the county executive and county assembly. Coming from a regime where legislators were actively involved in service delivery (through CDF and LATF) and without clear information for those aspiring for this positions we foresaw a conflict in at least four lines: between County Assembly Members and Governor; Governor and MPs (who were likely to continue to influence CDF); Governor and Officers of the National Government; and Governors and Non-State Actors who provide certain services especially should governors want to exercise control over who operates in their jurisdictions. Notably the intergovernmental frameworks in place do not bring on board MPs and NSAs in discussing devolution matters. 

In what one can call a system keen on putting enough checks and balances, the constitution of Kenya created numerous institutions at national and county level. As such coordination is proving to be a big challenge. We have in mind the various commissions; will each of them have an office in each county? Or how will they operate and who meets their costs? Secondly is the coordination between County Governments and State Coorporations and Semi Autonomous Government Agencies (SAGAs) in the various sectors whose core functions have been devolved. For instance how will National Cereal and Produce Board (NCPB) work with all counties to ensure that there is sufficient grain reserve? And do counties decide how and where to sell their grains as well as import if they so wish? This are the questions receiving silent treatment as each body seeks to maintain its former jursidiction and leading to county governments crying foul. 

The awareness and capacity of the public to effectively participate in governance of their areas remains wanting. Not only is there inadequate information on devolution and the roles of county governments and the elected representatives among the citizens is a worrying concern. The process of rolling out a comprehensive civic education programme has been long and patchy at best. With such a lacuna the public is left to the mercy of sensational news items of all that is not going right. This presents a challenge when it comes to demanding for accountability from the elected leaders as the citizen can best demand for transparency and accountability when they are fully informed and ready to engage meaningfully with their county governments. I think not all persons in key positions want the public educated as that would expose their true roles and hence greater demands, but even then there must be action from those keen for a functional system.


A final and in no way the least challenge is around further decentralization within county governments. While the main attention is on the transfer of power, functions and resources from National to County Governments, there is a danger that we may have created new “central governments” based at county headquarters. The County Government Act 2012 and Cities and Urban Areas Act 2012 provide mechanisms for further decentralization within counties. The persons responsible at these units are to be appointed by the governor and County Public Service Boards. They also need to be facilitated with enough resources to carry out their work. There is not much we are hearing on this and yet it will determine how well services reach the people at the lowest level. The process of establishing and gazetting the units of further decentralization needs to be on top of County Assembly agendas. Infact if the current county governments will be of value in posterity then they should ensure they establish this mechanisms of moving services closer to the people.