Transition to county governance and implementation of devolution By Conrad Bosire and Waikwa Wanyoike
Governor Nathif Jama at one of the Garissa county offices. ‘The actualization of county governance required fundamental reorganization of governance systems and structures at the national and county level. The constitution recognized this by establishing institutions to oversee this.’
With under two months remaining to the end of period provided by law for the transition to county governance (March 2016), it is a good time to take stock of implementation of devolution over the last three years.
The March 2013 general election marked the entry of county governments into the scene. In the 47 counties across the country, governors and members of county assemblies were elected to office to replace the former 175 local authorities.
Unlike those local authorities, the structures, powers and functions, and as resources of counties are laid down in the constitution. The actualization of county governance required fundamental reorganization of governance systems and structures at the national and county level. The constitution recognized this by establishing institutions to oversee this, and besetting a time limit of three years for completion.
An assessment report by the Commission for the Implementation of Constitution (CIC) (June 2014) indicated that at the time, all counties had managed to put in place the basic institutional and administrative structures.. In a nutshell there were 1450 ward members of county assemblies across the country: 1370 men (95 per cent) and 80 women. It was necessary for 572 women be taen from party lists to ensure compliance with the one-third-gender rule. The representatives of other groups (83 women and 97 men) brought the grand total of MCAs to 2222. Kenyans did not elect a single woman governor. Additionally, 448 persons were appointed as county executive members, of whom 297 are men and 149 women. The men CECs are just over 67 percent of the county executive members (meaning the one-third-gender rule is not quite met – and a few counties have more than one-third women, s some must have less). And, the CIC said that all counties had established county public service boards and county assembly public service boards.
While almost all counties were able to put the basic structures and systems in place soon after the election, the more complex transition issues were to be given more time. These included analysis and transfer of functions, costing of functions, audit and verification of assets and liabilities, assessment of capacity gaps, and transition of human resource among other issues.
Implementation of transition arrangements
In order to manage the complex aspects of transition, Parliament established the Transition Authority to oversee the transition. The TA was charged with the unbundling, clarification and transfer of national and county functions, costing of functions to facilitate national and county planning and budgeting, and audit of assets and liabilities among other functions related to transition to county governance. It was also supposed to oversee the assessment and rationalization of human resource requirements between the two levels of government. Ideally, it should have discharged its core responsibilities before the county governments came into place. This way, counties would have been clear on the nature and extent of their functions and the costing would have assisted in the making of the first county budgets and planning on human resource. But, in reality, some important tasks give to the TA, such as unbundling of functions, audit and verification of assets and assessment of human resource needs have not been completed.
Despite the critical role TA was expected to have in facilitating transition, the National Government, showing, perhaps what seems to be its characteristic attitude of undermining devolution, seemed not keen to put in place the necessary mechanisms for transition to devolved government. Setting up of the TA was delayed by about a year and precious time was lost that could have been used to commence some of the functions. The TA noted that it faced challenges including inadequate resources, control by the central government bureaucracy, and lack of cooperation by ministries and national government agencies.
Service delivery by county governments
these challenges, counties have made some progress in service delivery. While a more accurate assessment of impact on service delivery will emerge later, there is anecdotal evidence to support the improvement of services by counties. In the agricultural sector, many counties have procured agricultural machinery and inputs for various agricultural services, including extension services, that are available to farmers at subsidized costs,. In the health sector, counties have built new health institutions and improved or rehabilitated existing ones. Some counties have their first ambulances, X-Ray machines or intensive care units. All the 47 counties have procured machinery for construction and maintenance of roads and almost all counties were reported to have undertaken major road projects within their counties.
In the education sector, the functions performed by counties include: building of new facilities for early childhood education and vocational training, hiring of teachers, learning materials, and school feeding programmes. Counties have also connected additional households to water supply, and constructed more boreholes, wells, and watering points for livestock in order to enhance access to water.
Counties, and the devolved system of government in general, were meant to pursue specific objectives set out in the constitution. These include: development and delivery of essential services, enhancing national public participation in governance, protection of marginalised communities and enhancing national unity and integration. It is not possible to provide a comprehensive assessment of achievement of these objectives here but there is some evidence of achievement (and some failures) in the achievement of devolution objectives, such as the delivery of services described above.
In a national survey conducted as part of the socio-economic audit of the constitution, under the office of the auditor-general, more than half of the respondents agreed that devolution is “positively” changing their lives. Furthermore, 58 per cent of the respondents also agreed that devolution is contributing to development in their communities. Support for devolution remains strong among the public. The auditor genral suggested that counties were getting better value for the money allocated than before devolution.
However, a lesser number (less than half) felt that they have no influence over decisions of county government. Thus, while devolved governance was meant to enhance participation in governance, public perceptions about alienation from governance at the county level have not changed.
While counties seem to have done well in service delivery, there are a number of challenges and failures at the county level. County service delivery is being carried out in the absence of clear legal and policy frameworks at the national and county levels. Very few counties have concluded laws and policies to support performance of functions. And the quality of the law passed is sometimes questionable. Other capacities needed include technical expertise in the various sectors of service delivery to ensure quality and adequate services. A number of counties have not spent as much as 30 per cent of their money on development, as the law requires.
Other challenges include conflicts between governors and senators, the Council of Governors and various sectoral ministries (mainly over functions and resources), and between the legislative and executive arms. These conflicts impede effectiveness. Political and administrative institutions at the national and county level should adopt a cooperative and productive approach with each other, as opposed to a confrontational approach. Reports by the controller of budget and the auditor general of wastage and stealing of resources in the counties as well as massive corruption and perks also point to greed and the failure of accountability and prudence at the county level.
Furthermore, while the counties are required to enhance ethnic integration policies, there are concerns that most counties have not pursued this. Over 60 per cent of the counties are reported not to complied with requirement by law to reserve 30 per cent of positions in the county public service for members of non-dominant communities. There is a need for counties to collectively and individually examine and reflect on their steps towards achievement of devolution objectives and adjust accordingly. Otherwise they are playing into the hands of the central government by sowing seeds of abolition of devolution.
Conrad Bosire is a Special Programme Advisor and Waikwa Wanyoike the Executive Director of Katiba Institute.