The birth of the county is almost exactly a month away. This should be cause for jubilation among the many Kenyans who fought hard for devolution. Yet the euphoria must be tempered because, in many ways, Kenya has not adequately prepared itself for this momentous event.
True, no one can adequately prepare for systemic reform, just as no one is ever fully prepared to become a parent. Yet there are reasonable steps that can be taken and must be taken to ready oneself.
As it happens, many of these steps were actually envisioned by the drafters of the 2010 Constitution, the members of the taskforce on devolved government, and even the lawmakers of the 10th Parliament.
But while these visionaries staked a clear path, it has only been followed to a certain extent, and lethargically.
Consider this. Although the Constitution divides responsibility for delivering key services like health, water and education between the national and county governments, it is widely understood that more details are needed.
Why? Because the Constitution only speaks about these services in broad terms. It is not specific enough and does not cover every conceivable service.
Moreover, national and county governments share responsibilities in various sectors, and exactly who is doing what must be debated, defined, and agreed.
This may sound abstract, but suppose that there is disagreement and lack of clarity about which services each level of government is responsible for? What if no one is sure who is supposed to provide immunisations? Or who is to run provincial hospitals? The result could be that no one delivers these services and people become sick, or are not treated.
We also need to know who is doing what because we need to know how much money each level of government should get.
Suppose we agree that counties are responsible for immunisation, but then the national government does not release sufficient funds to counties to cover the cost of providing vaccines to all children. Who will suffer? Ordinary Kenyans, of course.
Now, ask yourself this question: how certain are you that the national and county governments know what they are supposed to do, and have the funds they need to do this on March 5? The truth is that the government, led by the Transition Authority, the Treasury, and the service ministries, is very far behind in clarifying who is doing what and how much it costs.
It is true that the full transition will take three years, but there should still be a clear roadmap at the outset.
In order to see how well government was doing on this score, and to help prepare citizens for devolution, we conducted research into the health sector in Kenya.
Why health? Because health is the most important and expensive function to be devolved under the Constitution, and because it is an area of shared responsibility, where confusion about roles is particularly likely.
We asked a simple question: strictly based on the information that has been made available to the public up to today, how clear are the roles of national and county governments under devolution? Our full answer to this question will be available in the next few days in a new policy brief.
But our short answer is: not clear.
When we looked at documents from the Treasury and the health sector itself, we found that there were a number of inconsistencies.
For example, the 2012/13 budget shows that all provincial hospitals will be devolved to counties. The health sector’s own position paper argues that these should remain at the national level. So who is in charge of these hospitals? Who will fund them? We don’t know.
Likewise, immunisation is deemed a national responsibility in the health sector position paper, but it is devolved in the 2012/13 budget. Has a final decision been made about this? Who will be in charge of immunising children from now on?
The Taskforce on Devolved Government recommended that whichever level of government was responsible for a particular service, should be responsible for both recurrent spending (such as operations) and development spending (such as investment in buildings). This is good practice.
However, when we look at the 2012/13 budget, we see that while district hospitals are devolved, very large investment budgets (Sh900 million) remain with the national government. This may lead to lack of clarity about who is in charge of these facilities.
We have only analysed the health sector, but the situation is similar across government. The available documentation is opaque and confusing. Led by the Transition Authority, government should open the process of determining which level of government is doing what and why.
The public should be involved throughout, not simply handed the output. The theory of devolution rests on an informed public. The time is now.
Jason Lakin is a senior programme officer and research fellow at Hivos Foundation & International Budget Partnership [email protected]