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Disputes over offices for governors points to tough transition ahead

Tuesday March 26 2013



With county governors being sworn in on Wednesday, Kenya is at a decisive stage in the implementation of the devolved system of government.

I predict more turf wars between governors and Nairobi-based based bureaucrats. 

The Office of the President appears to be remodelling itself to share executive functions with the new office of the governor.

How else do you explain the numerous cases where the Office of the President has come out to countermand decisions made by the Transitional Authority over allocation of offices and houses for governors?

Long before the general elections, the Transitional Authority announced that the offices of the governor of Nairobi would be located at Shell BP House on Harambee Avenue. A few weeks ago, that arrangement was countermanded by an announcement by Government spokesman Muthui Kariuki.

All over the country, governors have been made to engage in sterile disputes with the Office of the President over houses and offices. Clearly, the Nairobi-based bureaucracy is still in the old mindset, fighting to retain functions, powers and resources which the Constitution has transferred to the grassroots.

My warning to the Nairobi-based bureaucrats is the following: If you persist in frustrating governors, you will soon find yourself in the Supreme Court to explain why you are clinging on to responsibilities you don’t have under the schedule of functions stipulated in the Constitution.

Indeed, the schedule of functions under the Constitution is so clear about the powers and functions which will continue to be exercised at the centre and those that must be exercised by the governor.
The way I see it, it is going to take a long time before the new system of governors takes root.

It seems to me that we have not done a great deal of preparatory work in costing all the functions that have been transferred to the counties. Neither have we done much work in assessing each county’s capacity to collect taxes assigned to it by the Constitution.

We did not do a good job at putting together the cost of putting in place the institutions and infrastructure for county governments.

Do we want to create counties which will forever be asking for funds from the central government or do we want to encourage them to collect the taxes assigned to them?

Should we just throw all the money at all the governors in the country without exception or adopt a phased-approach where money is disbursed depending on capacity to absorb and manage it?

We must not forget that the ordinary mwananchi living in rural areas has high expectations from the county system of government. The popular belief is that with 15 per cent of revenues being channelled to counties, governors will have huge discretionary resources at their disposal.

The small businessman and contractor in the countryside believes that with procurement laws being changed to give preference to locals in the award of contracts, the new system will open new opportunities.

What is not appreciated is that a good proportion of the money being transferred will be eaten up in funding existing functions and programmes which the central government has been running in the counties. These existing programmes and services will not just stop because a governor has come to town.

It is the same money that will be used to pay salaries and run rural dispensaries, health centres and the existing government hospitals in each county. Part of the money will be channelled into funding existing agricultural extension services and paying the salaries of staffers working for the Ministry of Agriculture at the local level.

We must not forget that according to the schedule of functions stipulated in the Constitution, education, agriculture and health services will be run by the governor with Nairobi only dealing with policy matters.

Will the money we are transferring to counties be enough to pay for all the functions we have transferred to them? How do we make sure that most of the money channelled to the grassroots does not end up paying salaries?

From a public expenditure management standpoint, devolution is going to be a risky experiment.