It will be survival for the fittest in counties offering quality places

Tuesday November 27 2012

Water vendors in Wote town in Makueni County make brisk business in an area where residents are severely affected by water shortage following a shortfall of rain.

Water vendors in Wote town in Makueni County. The central government has a long way to go in ensuring that Kenyans get tap water right in their homes, but with devolution well planned and managed counties will provide water and other services faster. Photo|FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP


The 47 counties of Kenya display diverse characteristics in terms of population, endowment and public service performance.

In this context, the purpose of devolution is to place responsibility for sustainable development, substantially on the counties.

The extent to which counties achieve their development objectives will be a factor of how these diversities are dealt with by the national and county governments as well as the people residing in the various counties.

Critical to success will be leadership, governance, technical competence and implementation structures. These are in addition to natural resources and financial resources that are available to individual counties.

In this respect, four building blocks, supportive of Kenya Vision 2030 and operationalization of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 are key, namely:

  • promotion of inclusive growth;
  • growing and sustaining county competitiveness;
  • building and maintaining quality places, and
  • achieving a paradigm shift in county service delivery.

The ability of counties to create wealth and enhance welfare outcomes of their citizens will depend on how well they are able to leverage their endowments, natural and otherwise, within the prevailing national, regional and global operating contexts.

However, attracting the jobs that improve welfare for citizens will not be achieved through lone ranger efforts. Robert Katz, drawing from experience elsewhere, suggests that to prosper, a nation, and therefore our counties, must leverage four assets — innovation, human capital, infrastructure and quality places.

Given the level of inequalities between and within Kenyan counties as well as close kinship linkages between some of them, it is necessary to consider county competitiveness and complementarities within clear collaborative frameworks.

To respond to the constitutional requirement of promoting inclusive growth, the national and county governments must pursue inclusive growth paradigms that promote competitiveness and innovation.

Development mandates

These will require that the functional assignments respond to the development mandates assigned to a county or group of counties within a harmonised national development framework. Key to this will be the adoption of facilitative spatial forms and planning arrangements.

Building quality places is a priority for counties. Both from demands of the constitution and the imperatives of a competitive economy, as well as the rapidly expanding population, it will be important for the counties to give priority to the realisation of quality places.

The issue of quality places will have to deal with matters related to the spatial form of places, diversity of the populations and therefore of neighbourhoods, provision of schools, hospitals, energy, water, transportation and security. This will have to take due cognizance of climate change and environmental constraints.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 has set out the broad structure for governance including some of the key principles to guide governance. In local governance, the counties are the main, recognised form of government.

Although there is yet no widely agreed formal definition for inclusive growth, a consensus on what it entails is emerging from policy statements of various countries and their development partners, from discussions on development policies at international and regional forums, and from studies and reports of academic and policy researchers.

Inclusive growth means growth with equal opportunities. Inclusive growth therefore focuses on creating opportunities and making them accessible to all.

Growth is inclusive when it allows all members of a society to participate in and contribute to the growth process on an equal basis regardless of their individual circumstances.

The distinguishing feature of the inclusive growth process is that it focuses attention on understanding the causal factors behind inequality outcomes and then addresses the causal factors. Inclusive growth depends on average opportunities available to the population and how opportunities are shared among the population.

The effectiveness and efficiency with which public services are provided to support inclusive growth, economic innovation and competitiveness, and maintaining quality places will be key to the success of the counties.

Public services have been defined as any of the common, everyday services provided by national and local governments with the aim of improving social welfare. They are used jointly by many citizens simultaneously and users cannot readily be excluded.

Market mechanisms of demand and supply are inadequate for supplying public goods and services. Hence, collective (i.e. government) action is needed to pay for these services and to distribute them, that is, to allocate both the costs and the benefits.

The imperatives of effective and efficient public service delivery include effective, integrated economic and spatial planning, appropriate financing/funding, sound service management, good governance, and monitoring and evaluation.

A key prerequisite is definition of the appropriate service levels, including answering the question of to whom the services be provided. In addition, the issue of what level of government will be responsible for which function is pertinent.

What about consideration of the issue of cost of service provision and which level of government yields the most cost-effective options? Global experience suggests that in assigning service delivery functions and therefore revenue and expenditure is a fine balance.

Which are the feasible service delivery mechanisms and options under the Constitution? For Kenya the issue of service organisation and responsibility and therefore the organisation of public finances is important, with the key concerns being efficiency and effectiveness.

Dr Aligula is principal analyst on infrastructure and economics at Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA)