The introduction of county governments in 2013 was a milestone in the country’s socio-economic and political landscape. Thus, devolution ranks among the outstanding features of the Constitution.
Nearly seven years since the launch, devolution has registered mixed results. And the issues came to the fore on Jamhuri Day, when governors across the country gave an account of their performance since ascending to power. Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya took the lead, articulating some of the achievements, among them expansion of infrastructure, provision of health services and other utilities such as water. Experience, however, shows these face many challenges.
Health personnel have staged more strikes in the past six years than any other time in history as they protest poor management and treatment. Other responsibilities such as provision of pre-primary education as well as vocational training have not been properly documented.
Opinion is divided, but there is consensus that devolution has transformed development at the grassroots. Residents in some counties only saw tarmac roads and modern hospitals for the first time under devolution. County-level hospitals can now conduct some delicate surgeries.
But more fundamental questions have been raised. Counties have become veritable hubs of corruption. Pilferage, nepotism and wastage have become the order of the day in the counties.
Indeed, this discussion is coming at a critical moment when the counties are on the spot over governance and ethical leadership. To date, three governors – Mike Sonko (Samburu), Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu) and Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu) have been locked out of office as they face corruption charges. Add to this the number of county officials facing legal suits over graft and the gravity of the matter becomes patently explicit. Corruption has become the biggest threat to devolution.
Counties are also at fault over poor financial management. Granted, they suffer greatly due to slow and haphazard funds disbursement by the National Treasury. But they are also poor in managing what they receive. They hardly pay service providers and debts. More than 30 counties have been blacklisted by the National Treasury for not paying their bills. This is bad governance. The imperative is to rethink the governance of counties and institute measures to end graft, wastage, nepotism and poor service delivery. Devolution must be made to work.