Devolution is here to stay
Devolution is a baby we have to nurse and babysit to maturity despite its deformities. We started down this new road only three years ago. It still has much to be done. It has many rough parts to be smoothened. It has many problems yet to be solved. But I have an enduring faith, and I urge you to share this enduring faith, that this devolution road is the right road.
It is the road to the future. It serves the interest of harmony. It is the road ahead to a better, more equal and more prosperous Kenya for all Kenyans. Any other road takes us only to the past.
Devolution carries our nation’s prospects for a life in which citizens develop and pursue their aims, potential and ambitions to the fullest, without the constant interference and domination of big brother government in Nairobi.
But Devolution is facing internal and external challenges.
County Governments must put their fiscal houses in order. They must reign in corruption and deal with the perception that they are the new centres of graft. According to the Auditor-General, Counties are losing billions of much needed money through careless spending and disregard for procurement regulations. If reports by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission are to be believed, almost every county has flouted tender rules and violated staffing guidelines. A number of counties are accused of favoritism, nepotism, tribalism and marginalization of regions or clans in recruitment and service delivery.
These are luxuries we cannot afford if the promise of devolution is to be fully realized. They are the reasons Kenyans asked to be released from the suffocating grip of centralized government. They must be left with the National Government where they currently have a cozy home.
But Counties are not the sole authors of their problems. Nearly all counties are victims of the acts of omission and commission by the National Government. The national government continues to hold onto devolved functions and the resources for implementing those functions. That is why the budgets of the National Government remain bigger than the combined budgets of the 47 counties in sectors that are already devolved.
The National Government continues to deploy its members as procurement officers for counties in contravention of the law. This is motivated by the need to continue with the old habits of using the procurement process to enrich a few people. It is possible that the corruption that has gripped county procurement processes is a carry over from the National Government. Counties must be allowed to train and deploy their own procurement officers.
Counties are still inconvenienced by delayed and inadequate disbursement of funds by the National government. In some cases, county governments are simply conduits for the National Government to steal money from Kenyans.
The procuring of equipment for health facilities is one such project. It was fronted as a project that was to be funded by the National Government. By the time the National Government approached county governments it had already signed an agreement with suppliers for the lease of equipment for seven years. County governments were then threatened into signing MOUs to accept this equipment. The public was fed with a lot of propaganda on how governors were refusing to take free equipment for the county health facilities. Among the equipment that has been leased under this contract are scissors, trays, trolleys, tongs and similar tools that would be cheaper if they were purchased.
Come 2016, counties are now being forced to surrender Ksh 95 million to be deducted from their share of funds annually for seven years as the payment for the lease of these equipment.
Kenyans in every county have therefore been forced to lease equipment for Ksh665 million over 7 years; funds that they would never have elected to spend in this manner. This scheme is definitely a scandal.
The contract needs to be made public. A forensic audit of the process for budgeting and procuring this equipment needs to be done including the determination of the value for money.
To date, many counties have not fully received the billions that were allocated to fight El Nino last year. Here again, counties were used as conduits of the National Government.
Delays by the National Government to disburse funds to counties have particularly affected delivery of health services. But it is the governors taking blame.
I want to challenge the National Government to fully and ungrudgingly let go of devolved functions. The National Government must make its budgets reflect the goals, ideals and aspirations of devolution. The refusal by the National Government to let go of state corporations whose functions have been devolved is frustrating county governments. For instance, although Agriculture is fully devolved, nearly all its parastatals remain in the hands of the National Government. The same applies in the health sector.
Institutions that ought to have died like the provincial administration are being revived and rebooted to compete and confuse the county governments. The National Government is busy rebranding the old order instead of dismantling it. The money that the National government is using to sustain duplicated functions could easily finance the operations of devolved units and ensure efficient, adequate and timely delivery of services by counties.
Despite these unending roadblocks, counties have made tremendous and unimaginable impact on our people.
Agriculture, a devolved function, has reemerged as the driver of the economy in the last two years. Healthcare, another devolved function, has recorded tremendous progress despite funding and staffing problems.
Even the National Government cannot deny that health care services were in shambles when counties took them over.
Everywhere there were too few hospitals and no drugs, no bedding no beds. Some counties were able to construct and equip up to 20 hospitals, dispensaries and health centres within the first year. Ambulance services are now taken for granted in parts of the country where none existed for the last fifty years. The number of doctors has increased from about 3,000 three years ago to over 4,500 today.
With increased and predictable funding, Agriculture and health sectors could easily meet and surpass expectations. Increased and predictable funding could easily see counties provide universal health insurance whose absence is confining many of our people to early graves because of unaffordable costs. Anybody saying that county governments have done nothing is stuck in a regrettable past and wants to make Kenyans miss the future.
To help secure this future, I wish to appeal to our senators who are the custodians of devolution, together with members of county assemblies and the governors to end the unhealthy competition between them and work together to secure devolution.
The Senate must stand true to its role as the protector of devolution. Governors and Senators must extend hands of friendship and show unity of purpose for the remainder of their terms, even if they are going to run against each other in 2017. The National Assembly must join in friendship to enhance the new order instead of fighting it.
The National Government must also end its unhealthy war with county governments. It is time the National Government gave governors their rightful roles in the new Kenya.
We must accept governors as the constitutional Chief Executives of the Counties. The Chief Executive of the National Government, H.E. the President must accept this reality and forge and nurture a culture of consultation and not confrontation with governors for the good of the nation. The National Government must stop seeing governors as enemies to be subdued but as partners in the struggle for a better Kenya.
Finally, I wish to address a matter that is going to choke everyone if not tackled urgently and soberly; our uncontrolled borrowing.
In the 2015/2016 Financial Year, the National Treasury allocated Kshs 362 billion for debt repayment. This figure has risen to Kshs 433 billion in 2016/2017, an increase of Kshs 71 billion or 20 per cent in one year. At this rate, in five years, the country will be spending all the tax revenue on repaying public debts with nothing left for capital and recurrent expenditures. Sooner rather than later, debt service will take priority. This will mean less revenue share for counties and more trouble for devolution. Counties will suffer, yet they are not getting any shares of the borrowed money. Let’s join hands and raise the alarm now. We have been flirting with disaster and we now seem to be embracing it in the name of debts.
Our salvation lies in strengthening the Counties and making them effective bulwark between the people and an ever-encroaching National Government that is determined to gather more power unto itself and to minimize and emasculate the functions of other organs and other levels of government.
Together, we have scored significant victories for devolution in the last three years.
But we must not live in the fading memory of those victories.
Let us join hands one more time, in this coming year and look ahead and anticipate successive new victories for devolution.
Let us not allow the fire we lit in 2010 to flicker and die.
Let us nurture the flames and ensure the future generations find not its ashes but its hope and promises.
Thank you all.