I am honoured to join you in celebrating our sixth year of Devolution.
In the last five years, this gathering was a men only affair. Today we have three female governors. I recognize and welcome the madam governors to this club.
It is my hope that after the next elections, we will have at least ten female governors. Devolution must bridge the gender gap in the country’s leadership.
Our people are definitely not enjoying the best they could, but they definitely have improved access to facilities and services like healthcare, roads, markets centres, early child development and agricultural services than before, thanks to devolution.
This should be a constant reminder to us never to fear or oppose change for the sake of it. “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything,” as George Bernard Shaw told us.
Devolution has proved that neither geography nor history is destiny. Nations and regions are poor or rich not because of their geography or their past but because of their ability or inability to make the best of their environment.
We now have tarmac roads and airports in long neglected parts of Kenya like Lodwar, Maralal and Wajir. Hospitals have sprouted in Wajir and Garissa. North Eastern can now access clean water through borehole drilling programmes. Processing plants are sprouting in Makueni, Uasin Gishu, Nyandarua and Kirinyaga among others, underscoring the potential of counties as the next centres of industrialization and job creation.
A 35-year old mountain of garbage has been taken out in Kisumu, underscoring devolution’s capacity to stop the march of environmental degradation in the countryside.
Unfortunately, these positive developments mean that there will be greater expectations of the county governments. Voters expect progress to be a straight forward march into the future, not a zigzag back and forth journey.
Devolution’s achievements should therefore not be celebrated without taking into full account the challenges ahead.
The challenges and areas of possible conflict are glaring. For instance, the National Government is pursuing its Big Four agenda…Food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare. Most of these are devolved functions.
Making sure their implementation by the National Government does not undermine devolution or result in duplication and conflict is a challenge we must address.
There are two issues which I consider cardinal to the success or failure of devolution; GOOD GOVERNANCE AND POLITICAL LEADERSHIP.
Good leaders need vision for the work they set out to do and a clear mission on how to pursue the vision. Often, such vision and mission are stated in a Manifesto.
In a county, the governor’s manifesto must find its way into the COUNTY INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT PLAN (CIDP) to inform social and economic transformation.
Implementing manifestos cannot be done unless the governor knits together a team that can deliver. You are therefore as good as your team. But even here, there are challenges.
How do governors implement their manifestos in an environment where the Big Four agenda includes devolved functions? A solution has to be found.
At this point, I wish to single out some very immediate threats to devolution and your tenures that we need to address this early.
Governors and the county public services continue to be accused of engaging in self-enrichment.
Too many governors and their executive are viewed with suspicion by voters and many are under active investigation by the EACC. There is nepotism and cronyism in counties. And too many counties are failing to come up with clear pro-youth programmes to address unemployment. People pursuing business with counties also talk of an elaborate network of County Assembly speakers, leaders of majority, CECs, county works supervisors and county clerks, among others, whose sole purpose is to make money from public works projects. These officials have the capacity and audacity to paralyze, delay and stall development projects.
MCAs and county Speakers are particularly being accused of conflict of interest. Often they are the contractors while at the same time purporting to be carrying out oversight roles.
The quest for cuts has also led to a craze for allowances by members of County Assemblies that is also paralyzing counties.
Governors have to pay for their Cabinets to be approved. To date, there are counties that are yet to form full cabinet because of the standoff between governors and MCAs.
Members of County Assemblies are constantly on so-called bench-marking and team building trips that are essentially acts of bribery by the Executive to have their agenda approved and a quest for allowances. This corruption network is eating devolution from inside out.
We have to stop it or it will altogether kill our most important gift to ourselves ever since our fathers brought us independence. Sometimes, the idea of corruption is based on rumors and perception. But there are also cases where eyebrows have been raised because the life styles of people have changed overnight. The best way to stop rumors from assuming the pedestal of truth is for the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to undertake objective life style audits of suspects.
Two institutions are key to proper financial management and accountability: The internal audit department, and the procurement department. Working hand in hand within the finance department, they can make or break good governance in the county. The governor has a duty to ensure that the people appointed to these departments are qualified, competent, accountable and smart.
The good news is that fighting corruption and shielding devolution are no longer matters of partisan debate. The MoU of the now famous handshake on March 9 prioritizes making counties deliver to the people. It also identifies corruption as an existential threat to the country. The President and I are agreed that we must fight corruption from a wide and common front. We shall not provide sanctuaries for perpetrators of corruption. We will strongly support whistleblowing from all Kenyans.
We have mandated the public to report corruption whenever they witness it but without witch hunt. Very soon, the corrupt will be on their own.
But governors also have their side of the story. For instance, counties are failing to attract high calibre, public-spirited personnel because of the existing pay structure.
Because of this, policy papers are wanting in some counties and many governors lack quality advisory services.
There seems to be a genuine need to review pay policy to enable counties attract quality staff without necessarily increasing costs.
We need to help our counties generate funds that would help them finance quality staffing in addition to providing services. One way to do this is to review and rationalize taxation policies. Counties have very small tax collection bases. In tourism sector for instance, VAT, Catering Levy and Tourism Levy all go to the national government. Overall, counties have only about 15 per cent taxation revenue base. There is too much confusion in the management of Roads sector with the National Government laying claim to most roads while doing nothing to maintain them.
We also need to review the relationship between regional authorities like Lake Basin Development Authority, Coast Development Authority, Tana and Athi Development authorities and the County and National Governments. And we must help our counties resolve boundary disputes. Let me make a brief mention of wealth creation in counties based on investments, own- revenue generation and employment creation. I encourage counties to remain aggressive in creating the institutional basis for investments by utilizing all the legal instruments available for doing this.
Here I would like to refer to the PPP law, the Special Economic Zones, Export Processing Zones, business incubation institutions, agribusiness investments, skills and business development centers, and so on.
Further, counties should not simply rely on getting locally generated revenues through licenses, rates and fees. The real difference in own revenue generation will only come from improved productivity.
Counties must demonstrate to the National Government that they are coming of age. The National Government must also be ready to provide the necessary back up when counties take investment initiatives for employment and wealth creation. The first five years of devolution witnessed enormous constraints in taking initiatives for investments in the counties. The PPP legal framework was particularly unclear. A lot has since been done to improve this.
However, the National Government still needs to do more in helping counties with transaction advisers and undertaking capacity building functions in line with the Inter-Governmental Relations Act. Very soon, we may need to address the issue of access to external funding in counties with the National Government as an intermediary given the transfer of functions in line with Schedule Four of the Constitution.
I want to end by saying something about the structure and viability of counties as presently constituted and the Building Bridges to a New Kenya Initiative. We continue to encourage our counties to explore the formation of economic blocs to address some of the challenges identified. This is also part of the MoU of the Building Bridges to a New Kenyan Nation initiative. Counties must work together regardless of the political affiliation of their governors, senators and MCAs.
I therefore laud the formation of the 14-county Lake Region Economic Bloc and appeal to the County Assemblies cooperate and pass legislation to aid the realization of the bloc. I encourage all counties that are exploring such formations to soldier on and their assemblies to cooperate. Going forward however, and as a matter of lasting solution to the problem posed by the sizes of the economies of devolved units, I want to propose to this forum that we need to bite the bullet and revisit the structure of devolution.
The Bomas Draft Constitution divided Kenya into 14 regions, each made up of several districts. The intention was to create units with the size and population that made them economically viable. It is time to look at how to recover this original spirit. My proposal is that we adopt a three-tier system that retains the current counties, creates regional governments and retains the National Government and with very clear formula for revenue sharing.
Finally ladies and gentlemen, you are one of the most critical stakeholders in the future of our country. I wish to invite all of you to support and take steps to the realization of the Building Bridges to the New Kenyan Nation initiative contained in the MoU we signed with President Uhuru Kenyatta. We aim is modest, humble and noble. We want to address ethnic antagonism, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, strengthen devolution, end divisive elections, ensure safety and security, end corruption and ensure shared prosperity. I appeal to you to embrace the document and its spirit.
Thank you. God bless you.