Kenya’s new constitutional order was born out of a need to take more political power and economic resources to the grassroots.
The devolved system also takes public services to the people.
Article 174(c) of the Constitution explains one of the objects of devolution as giving powers of self-governance to the people and enhancing their participation in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them.
This effectively gives the people the authority to take charge of the affairs and futures of their lives.
Kenya shall have six levels of elected leaders although five are called specifically to the counties. These are the county governor, senator, Member of Parliament, women’s representative and ward representative.
Additionally, there shall be directors and secretaries who represent the line ministries at the county level. These shall also be accessible to the people on matters regarding the specific functions that have been distributed to the county governments as per the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution.
As we sail into these uncharted waters, we should make reference to the Constitution to understand our roles succinctly.
The other key areas that have captivated the minds of Kenyans are the issues raised in Article 174 (f) and (g). They address promotion of social and economic development, the provision of easily accessible services and equitable sharing of national and local resources.
The Fourth Schedule identifies the social and economic services that have been devolved to the county governments such as health, agriculture, transport, trade development and county planning.
This means that each county shall have, under the Head of Public Service, the county departments representing line ministries that deal directly with service provision to the people.
The call throughout the nation has been for improved service delivery to acceptable standards that will comfortably afford Kenyans a decent standard of living, ensuring basic needs such as safe drinking water, quality healthcare, sanitation, education and others are provided.
These have been unavailable to the majority of the Kenyan population.
The county governments must ensure they are clear on the specific basic needs and through prioritised planning and implementation policies deliver as needed.
It is recognised that the county development plans will have to fall in line with the national development plans. There however exist disparities between counties which the Constitution seeks to address.
The needs that Nakuru County will have for access to healthcare, for example, will not be the same as those of Samburu County for the same service due to differences in size, population and existing infrastructure among others.
The onus is on the county leaders and citizens to conceptualise and implement development policies that maximise on their comparative advantage to enhance economic development.
For example, Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa and other arid counties can become solar energy harvesting hubs, which they can transfer into energy to power their developments or for sale into the national grid.
Cities that have enjoyed effective service delivery need to ensure that standards are maintained even as other counties begin elevating their own service standards.
Theoretically what Kenya will begin to experience over time is the population decongestion of urban areas, as what were previously considered rural towns begin to grow through revenue generation, improved service delivery and attractive jobs.
The Constitution’s clarion call has been devolution and equitability. Equal rights, equal treatment for all Kenyans and equal opportunities for every citizen where the word equal also embodies a fairness that Kenyans have desired. Kenyans are longing for a complete break from the historical underbelly that has been the unequal distribution of income and resources.
This delivery of Kenya from inequality into a middle income economy is one of the objectives of Vision 2030.
In the 2012/2013 budget, Sh140 billion was allocated to county governments for the implementation of their functions as indicated in the Fourth Schedule.
The Commission on Revenue Allocation then unveiled its recommendations for the horizontal sharing of revenue. One thing became abundantly clear during this process that Kenyans need to understand the revenue being discussed and allocated to the counties is not money in hand but resources that will be used in expenditure at the counties and enhancement of service delivery.
The allocation recommendations are made on the basis of the service delivery needs of each county. Thus what can be deduced is the need not so much for equitable distribution of resources as it is for the equitable distribution of services.
The resources the national government shall distribute to the county governments will be for the purpose of ensuring every county has the same level of opportunity available for development.
For example, every county shall have county directors, county assemblies, county executive committees and this is the basis for equitable distribution. The resources being allocated are there to ensure that all administrative functions necessary for the devolved structures to functions are in place.
Acknowledging that there are county specific variations that cannot be disregarded such as land size, population and existing infrastructure among others, the premise is that this distribution model lays a foundation for each county to have adequate resources available to it for promotion of social and economic development.
The reason this assumption can be made is by understanding the “resources”, as it were, which elicit rural-urban migration and draw people to already burgeoning cities.
The resources that people so desperately seek when migrating to the cities read more like services. The search for jobs, good schools, good hospitals, good roads, clean running water, electricity, business opportunities and other services the devolved system of government was created to really bring home to the people.
One of the greatest injustices and drawbacks to the success of the implementation and setting up of the county structures will be the call for patience and understanding in the people coming from the lack of awareness.
As we experience an increase in pre-election information on the promises of the different aspirants, the responsibility lies with all of us who have the knowledge and awareness of the kind of delays that should be expected to share forthwith.
Devolution and matters revolving around the Constitution have been mentioned and highlighted by different aspirants but there needs to be increased focus on managing the expectations of the people and steering them towards realistic targets.
Kenya is undertaking a totally unique dispensation. No other country in the world has devolved their governing structure in the fashion that Kenya has, creating new political positions as well as new political geographical boundaries.
As such, there are numerous unseen victories and challenges in the months and years ahead that everyone needs to be prepared for as these are uncharted waters.
The writer is a Policy Analyst, Macroeconomic Division at Kippra