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Stop postponing difficult decisions to make county governments reality

Tuesday September 6 2011

By JAINDI KISERO ([email protected])

This devolution thing is evolving into a veritable Tower of Babel. Clearly, part of the problem is that we did not cater for a transitional authority to midwife and steer the process of transferring specific functions to the grassroots.

The upshot is that Nairobi-based bureaucrats have assumed that they have the liberty to transfer functions to the county government as they choose.

The impasse between the Treasury and the Ministry of Local Government over the appropriate fiscal financial management law is but a symptom of this entrenched mindset.

Which is why it is not surprising that the Office of the President is talking about appointing regional commissioners to take over the responsibilities of district and provincial commissioners?

The Ministry of Health has decided that all provincial hospitals will be converted into referral hospitals. It is all a ploy to claw back what the new Constitution has taken away from them.

You see, in as far as health services are concerned, the Constitution clearly stipulates that the national government will only be in charge of policy and national referral hospitals.

When the ministry says that it has decided to create more national referral hospitals, it is just a clever scheme to circumvent the division of functions stipulated in the new Constitution. At the end of the day, it is all about competition for resources.

Since the proposed regional commissioners will be paid from the centre, it means that the Office of the President in Nairobi will retain a share of the budgetary allocation for local administration.

And when you create extra referral hospitals, the aim is to prevent the counties from taking a larger share of the budget for health services and local administration.

The biggest problem in this whole process of implementing devolution is that the political elite wants to postpone making difficult decisions.

You can get Parliament to sit every day and mobilise MPs to pass 100 Bills in a week. However, creating a devolved system that works will require much more in terms of expertise and political will.

We need to urgently come up with a new structure and costing of the national government. For instance, if most of the functions of the Ministry of Agriculture are going to the counties, what will be left at the headquarters in Nairobi?

The Constitution merely sets a minimum of the percentage of budgetary resources that must go to the counties — namely 15 per cent of revenues.

But the truth of the matter is that if you cost all the functions of the Ministry of Agriculture which the new Constitution has transferred to the counties, you will find that a much higher percentage of budgetary resources for that ministry will go to the counties.

Do we want to transfer functions in one go or in phases — even as the counties acquire critical capacities?

Clearly, the actual process of transferring functions to the counties will require a great deal of political will. The Nairobi-based bureaucracies will be plotting revenge at every stage.

Neither can we continue to postpone the difficult political question about the appropriate number of county assembly members. Mr Mutakha Kangu’s taskforce on devolution suggested 25 members per constituency. I find this number too high.

We need to agree on the appropriate size of a county assembly. And as we decide on the number, we must also consider the fact that these assemblies will perform many oversight functions at that level.

What is the future of the existing local authorities and their staff? When will the process of restructuring the provincial offices start? When will we start identifying and training civil servants who will be transferred to the counties?

Do we want to build new offices for governors or should we not just allow the governor to move into the offices currently used by district commissioners?

We need to make a decision on the future of the existing devolved funds: whether we want to discontinue them at once or in phases.

The bureaucracy at the centre will fight to retain functions and power over resources. I have a caution for them: if you persist in resisting what the Constitution has given to the people, prepare to defend yourself in court.