Governors have identified constant wrangles with politicians and national institutions as the biggest threats to the success of devolution.
But they also took time to learn about the opportunities offered by the system of government from high-level guest speakers such as Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, Slovakia’s ambassador to Kenya, Mr Michal Mlynar and Kenyan business leaders.
President Kagame urged the governors to rally the people behind their goals for them to succeed.
Mr Mlynar said devolution was a long-term project and all its goals would not be achieved in one term. And Mr Julius Kipng’etich of Equity Bank challenged them to seek a massive re-organisation of workers if they are to achieve radical transformation.
Speaking at the Governors' Summit in Naivasha, the county bosses said the wrangles between institutions was most evident at the national level, where both the Senate and the National Assembly have been battling to manage the affairs of counties.
FIGHTS WITH COUNTY ASSEMBLY MEMBERS
Most of the governors who spoke also expressed their frustrations over fights with county assembly members, which also affect the management of county affairs.
These have made it difficult to meet the expectations of a public who now see the county governments as the first port of call even in matters that fall under the control of the national government such as security and education.
Many of them have also had to fend off complaints by MPs from their regions who criticise their performance.
The leaders asked for guidance on how to overcome the challenges in managing relationships, meeting public expectations and relating better with other elected leaders.
They also asked the Attorney General to intervene when Parliament oversteps its mandate in when dealing with county governments.
“When we come together and engage in such a high level conversation, we’ll be able to take the advice given,” Mr Isaac Rutto, the chairman of the Council of Governors, said.
Wajir governor Ahmed Abdullahi said his colleagues were unhappy with the Senate for passing the County Development Bill, which created County Development Boards chaired by senators.
The boards are meant to guide the development of counties, but Mr Abdullahi said they would end up relegating governors to the equivalent of secretaries, acting on decisions that they were not involved in making.
“The Senate is becoming a prefect of the counties and it has got to the point where the individual senator feels like he has to do oversight in the county directly,” Mr Abdullahi, who heads the Finance and Policy Committee of the Council of Governors, said.
The County Development Bill was passed by the Senate last December and has been forwarded to the National Assembly for consideration by MPs.
In the wake of a report on spending in the first quarter of this financial year, senators announced that they would introduce a new law to limit county governments’ recurrent expenses.
Attorney-General Githu Muigai said it would be a paradox if the Senate became a threat to the survival of county governments (which the Constitution says the Senate is supposed to protect).
Kiambu Governor William Kabogo warned that governors without political experience were likely to get distracted by constant bickering.
He said Kiambu inherited many workers from the national government and county councils such that from its Sh5.2 billion given under the equitable share of revenue, it spends Sh4.4 billion on salaries alone, leaving the county with little money for development. This left it with no option but to find other ways to raise revenues, which again became a source of friction.
“Kenya is pregnant with expectations, but there needs to be civic education that the transition will take time,” Mr Kabogo said.
Mr Michal Mlynar, the ambassador of the Republic of Slovakia to Kenya, advised the governors to see devolution as a long-term project.
“Devolution is not a project for one term for a politician. Devolution is a project for generations,” he told the governors.
He said in his country, it took four years — the length of a term of government — for devolution to settle and for the “rough edges” to be polished.