As we embark on this year’s Devolution Conference, the words of Peter Kropotkin that; “True progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound, in lieu of the present hierarchy from the center to the periphery.” ring a bell.
Devolution is the focal point of Kenya’s present day Constitution.
Devolution has opened up space and opportunity for self-governance and growth. Thus, there must be continuous showcasing, evaluation and assessment of the quality of governance under devolution. This is basically what the Devolution Conference envisages in line with Article 174 of our Constitution which spells out the values of Devolution. Every enquiry, every contribution and every critique to and/or on Devolution should be taken in the context of Devolution’s import rather than its failures which are basically lessons.
As Governors chosen to lead devolution to greater heights, we shouldn’t abrogate unto ourselves the responsibility of being the guardians or the custodians of Devolution. That would be hijacking Wanjiku’s primary role in the Devolution set up. Wanjiku should let own Devolution by being its guardian, attorney and custodian. Such ownership and bearing of responsibility is what will sustain Devolution. We are only Wanjiku’s choices to help steer her vision, mission and objectives.
To say devolution has been a smooth sail would be to negate the import of pragmatic dissection. Devolution has had its fair of challenges whilst its implementation has encountered several weaknesses whether structural, political, social or economic. But in a nutshell, Devolution’s hymn hasn’t been a dirge. Notable milestones have been achieved as even more greater projections are envisaged.
Since independence, Devolution can be termed as one of the most influential, touching, far reaching and progressive governance ideal ever conceived and actualized. It has brought governance and vibrant participation to the lowest grassroots level.
There being a national agenda, the Big 4, it is important for County Governments to marry their own blue prints with this for posterity and make development a structured collaborative effort. There is urgent need to establish an Office of Management and Budget within the Presidency to act as a Liaison Office between the Presidency and the Council on matters of administration of National Government budgets per County and checking the performance of National Government agencies within the Counties. This Office should also aim to foster linkages, collaborations and interactions.
The agricultural sector is touted as Devolution’s anchor. Therefore, its survival and progress signifies a lot to Devolution. There is great need for the development of a commodity fund for all crops. A sort of an insurance that helps reduce risks. There is also need to promote investments in nutritional health in food security component as a key measure to boost health and as a preventative health measure. Diversification is also a key appendage if Counties are to prosper. Value addition and crafting regulatory mechanisms that liberalize the sector more than regulate or strangle it is also key. The development of Metropolitan Agricultural Master plan is vital so as to help create a balance and linkages between urbanization and agriculture.
Our country’s industrial growth is very much dependent and/or pegged on how the devolved units perform and structure their own industrial agendas. If the Counties can help steer the SMEs within their jurisdictions to scale, then our dream of becoming an industrial economy will be on course. As a Council, we must come up with a radical SME policy that guides this. This policy must address key issues such as taxation, licensing, access to credit/funding, research, subsidies, financial literacy, capacity building among other factors. Also, there is a strategic need for the creation of County EPZs and regional SEZs to harness an industrial takeoff. These are ongoing and incubation industrial and technological hubs that seek to exploit favorable regulatory regime to enhance industrialization and employment within the Counties. Or maybe we can start the one county, one industry programme with each County identifying industries based on competitive advantage, opportunity cost and economies of scale.
As a Council, we must advocate in conversion of at least one Tertiary institution into Devolution University of East Africa. This center of higher learning will aim to instill and propagate the ideals of Devolution and good governance. This center of excellence will also be the pot where legal frameworks that need realignments or repeal like the Water act will be deeply and critically discussed, analyzed and eventually crafted into Bills which reflect our current Constitutional reality. This is the center that will help develop alternative approaches in fulfilling devolved functions in a more strategic, measurable, realistic and timely manner. This includes rethinking how such vital sectors as Health can be rejigged to better deliver and avoid labor stalemates and capitation issues. It will also serve as a center of decentralization research and liaison. There is also great need to introduce mandatory Devolution Studies to all school going children.
Devolution is the future and the future generations need to be better prepared and equipped on devolution matters to enable them reconfigure strategies and make solid and credible choices as appertains Devolution’s leadership, management and accountability. The Council should also introduce a Devolution Scholarship fund.
Re-examining the role of Treasury viz a viz Devolution is crucial. This is because intermittent and late financial resource disbursements have continued to hamper service delivery and planning. Going into the future, the Council and the Treasury must create a synergy that works and ascribes penalties entrenched in law for late disbursement of funds. If Devolution has to work smoothly, resource disbursement must be timely and guaranteed.
There is also need to focus on County fiduciary procedures. This is on matters of budgeting, revenue generation and expansion of revenue base and accountability. Corruption has been cited as a cancer and as a Council, we are committed to ensuring our County Governments are corruption free and exercise the highest degree of prudential financial management. Several ideas worth consideration like zero based budgeting have variously been floated and should be considered.
Development of a Built Operate Transfer (BOT) and Loans (domestic and foreign) framework for County Governments is also of great necessity. For Counties to progress, capitation, infrastructural partnerships and concessioning is a requisite. But there must be a Law that guides County Governments whilst exploring the possibilities of credit access and infrastructural partnerships and concessions. The absence of such a Law limits the ability and independence of Counties to partner and source credit and these are some of the key preconditions necessary to spur growth, development and spur industrialization.
It is also imperative to recalibrate the role of Counties in the land regime. We as Counties need to emphasize on the need to fully devolve National Land Commission functions to the County level to ease land administration. There is also need to create a functional relationship between County Lands Departments, National Governments Ministry of Lands, National Land Commission and the Judiciary. This cooperation will help ease and improve Physical Planning, Land adjudication, administration, registration and succession to boost investment, enhance rating, hasten succession, enhance Alternative Dispute mechanisms etc.
Each County should also aim in liaison with national government to develop at least one Airstrip within the County. This is to ease interconnectivity, lessen the time of travel, expand locomotion alternatives, help in times of emergencies among others.
The devolved units must also take cognizance in the importance of Cooperative Movement as a driver of the Big 4 Agenda. Cooperatives play a vital role in pooling of resources, harnessing the capacity and capability to diversify, expanding individual and collective enterprises, spreading out the liquidity risks, decreasing exploitation, increasing returns on investment and savings, increasing productivity and incomes, opening chances for participation in leadership, offering employment, boosting consumption power and promoting sustainable social and economic development.
In conclusion fellow Kenyans,
Opening up opportunities that help link up our Devolved units with other jurisdictions that practice decentralization is also vital. Sharing ideologies and technologies is the way to go as we head into the future.
God Sustain Devolution, God Bless Our Counties, God Bless Kenya.