Transferring State functions to counties must take priority

Tuesday March 19 2013

By MWENDE MWENDWA

County governments will benefit greatly from giving priority to the transfer of functions in order to smoothen their financial management and planning after the officials take office next week.

The county governments should work in tandem with the Transition Authority. This is to establish or identify administrative units, draft legislation for application of functions and establish through the County Planning Unit the priority areas that need to be devolved and addressed immediately.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 was promulgated after years of agitation for better rights and equality for all Kenyans. According to Article 43, every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, adequate housing, freedom from hunger and other economic and social rights.

This mandate implies certain economic capacity at both the national and county government levels because the rights conferred to the people are functions of the two institutions.

The success of devolution in Kenya is pegged on the ability of the county governments to deliver the functions assigned to them as per the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution.

Economic development is important and even identified as one of the goals of devolution as per Article 174 (f). The success of this objective requires systems where financial management is well-organised, coordinated and in line with both the county level priorities and the national agenda.

The financial capacity of county governments is a constitutional mandate as articulated in Article 175 (b). It states that county governments shall have reliable sources of revenue to enable them to govern and deliver services effectively.

This is further confirmed by Article 202 (2), which requires county governments to be given additional allocations from the national government’s share of all revenue either conditionally or unconditionally.

Major challenges

The County Governments Act 2012 has succeeded in conceptualising the political, governance, financial and planning structures required to implement the objects of devolution at the local level.

The County Assembly and County Executive Committee have their clearly demarcated responsibilities with regard to enacting legislation and implementation of laws and plans.

The Act mandates every county government to have comprehensive development plans, which integrate economic, physical, social, environmental and spatial planning.

One of the major challenges that devolution was meant to address are the inequalities in service provision and accessibility by citizens, as well as inequities in income, opportunities and social provision.

The county governments will now bear the responsibility of ensuring that they formulate plans that reflect the national development blueprint, Vision 2030, as well as county specific needs and requirements. The County Governments Act 2012 states that no public funds at the county level shall be appropriated outside a planning framework, which essentially reiterates the need for sound integrated plans and well-flowing budgeting.

Financial management at both the county and national levels has been structured in the Public Finance Management Act 2012. Following the devolution adage that funding follows function, then financial management and planning must be seamless and flow in a manner that allows the citizens at the county level to enjoy the service delivery standards envisioned in the Constitution.

The budget process to be followed by the county governments has been structured to ensure proper utilisation of allocated resources, needs-based allocations and a more inclusivity by representation of the people.

This legislation has been passed to control challenges experienced in the past where budgetary allocations have not always reflected the specific pressing needs of the people or the areas of service delivery that really require additional resources.

Devolved system

The devolved system of government Kenya is undertaking will shift the responsibility of service delivery from individual line ministries and create a more unified planning and budgeting process at the county level.

The question as to whether this legislation will be sufficient to meet the expectations which citizens in all the 47 counties have of the county governments on issues of service delivery is another matter.

The assumption is that by following the prescribed financial management and county planning mandates the county governments will be able to deliver services to the citizens and bridge existing gaps. While this may be true in the long term after testing and tweaking the system, it may not be true in the short term.

First is the glaring reality that the Transition Authority’s role in the short to medium term is to ascertain the capacity of county governments to achieve the mandated functions and may limit how much the county governments can do immediately after taking office. This shall definitely result in delays for some county governments regarding service delivery.

In addition, the planning and funding as prescribed in the county budget may be delayed until queries of adequate capacity are satisfactorily addressed. If funding is to follow function, yet the counties need legislation in place and frameworks for service delivery before functions are transferred, implications of delays in the initial financial management and planning are inferred.

Once the county governments are established and are capable of undertaking the functions mandated to them in the Fourth Schedule as well as the Public Finance Management and County Government Acts of 2012, their greatest challenge will be to identify sufficient resources to meet the needs of the county. The county executive should identify and promotion individual county revenue raising strengths.

The writer is a macroeconomics policy analyst with KIPPRA