It has now been 18 months since county governments were sworn into office, yet the excitement that marked this important constitutional foundation of devolution is apparently waning.
Going by media reports, those months have been dramatic, the most recent being the proposal to initiate the dissolution of Makueni County, alongside the ongoing ‘Pesa Mashinani’ and ‘Okoa Kenya’ referenda.
As these things are happening, something seems to have been overlooked – the ignorance among Kenyans of all, or most, roles of county governments.
In a survey conducted by Ipsos Kenya in August, 2,021 respondents interviewed were asked: “As far as you know, is it the central or county government that is mainly responsible for each of the following services?”
The list read out included: Early childhood/primary school education, medical services, roads, security, water, land issues, wildlife protection/conservation, and power/electricity services.
Water and early childhood education are fully devolved, medical services and roads shared, and the others handled by the National Government.
From the survey findings, it is clear that there is a big misunderstanding on who is responsible for each. The proportion of those who thought that the National Government is in charge was as follows: Early childhood/primary education (52 per cent), medical services (47 per cent), roads (35 per cent) security (59 per cent), water (28 per cent), land issues (51per cent), wildlife protection/conservation (63 per cent) and power/electricity (48 per cent).
For the shared services: Medical services and roads, only 11 per cent and 15 per cent respectively were aware of this fact.
These statistics also point out three things: What Kenyans think should be the main roles of the National Government, which ones the role of county governments, and where there is a need for deliberation.
Again all these things have not have been clearly defined and understood. This may also explain why, just slightly more than half of Kenyans (55 per cent), stated that they knew of any development projects their county government has implemented since taking office. The rest (45 per cent), professed ignorance.
Much as the general public’s support for devolution remains high (69 per cent), as of now, disappointment regarding the performance of county governments is escalating. Overall, 44 per cent are dissatisfied with the performance of their county governments so far, while 33 per cent are satisfied. (Nineteen per cent are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, while three per cent declined to rate them).
To blame most for this perceived poor performance were governors and insufficient funds (29 per cent), and corruption (18 per cent). These are frequently mentioned as the main challenges facing county governments.
It is interesting to note that whilst county governments have been citing delays in the release of funds and are even lobbying for increased allocation, the public thinks that whatever they have been given is being misused.
One of the things county governments may have to quickly do is provide a clear understanding of what their roles are and those of the National Government. This should help them manage expectations and set a good foundation for evaluation by citizens.
This may also be important for proponents of the plebiscites otherwise their efforts will bear little fruit unless they are relying on the assumption that Kenyans have mastered the contents of Part 2 of the Fourth Schedule on distribution of functions.
County governments must up their game. If they don’t, they give room to anyone with the intent of manipulating devolution due to declining enthusiasm.
On the other hand, Kenyans must be ready to start holding their county governments accountable without condoning ills such as graft and nepotism which may be getting devolved.
Mr Rateng is a public affairs researcher at Ipsos Ltd (Kenya). The views expressed here don’t necessarily reflect those of the organisation. ([email protected])