Devolution In Kenya- The Gains, Challenges, Opportunities And Emerging Issues.


Devolution is the decentralization, transfer or delegation of power from a higher to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration. Devolution was at the core of the formation of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) between 2000 – 2004. The Constitution of Kenya Review Act 2000 required the CKRC to consider people’s participation through the devolution of power, respect for ethnic and regional diversity and communal rights including the right of communities to organize and participate in cultural activities and the expression of their identities. The feeling of being marginalized and neglected, deprived of resources and victimized for political and or ethnic affiliations intensified the push for devolution. There was at that point particular resentment of the Provincial Administration, which was then accused of abuse of powers bestowed upon its officers, while the local authorities were considered to have failed to deliver services but had instead been turned into dens of corruption.

The CKRC detailed proposals for devolution, but however, did not propose structures right down to village level, which were later discussed by delegates at the Bomas of Kenya with input from a Committee of Experts that finally delivered a new Constitution, articulating a devolved-system of Government entailing a National Government and 47 County Governments. Subsequently, the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 as enshrined in Chapter 11 of the Constitution and spelt out in the County Governments Act, 2012 created a decentralized system of government wherein two of the three arms of government; namely the Legislature and the Executive are devolved to the 47 Political and Administrative Units provided for under Article 6 and specified in the First Schedule. The Devolution Chapter of the Constitution established the Intergovernmental Relations Act, 2013, which created key structures, namely a National and County Governments’ Coordinating Summit to help in the regulation and guidance of the relationship and co-existence of the two levels of government to facilitate success of devolution. The Constitution also created the Transition to Devolved Governments Act, 2012 which established the Transition Authority (TA) with the mandate of facilitating and coordinating the transition to the devolved system of government.

Devolution is therefore a key pillar of the Constitution of Kenya by seeking to bring governance closer to the people, with county governments being at the center of dispersing political power and economic resources to Kenyans at the grassroots. The Principles that underpin devolution in the country are that County governments established under the Constitution shall be based on democratic principles and the separation of powers; have reliable sources of revenue to enable them govern and deliver services effectively; and ensure no more than two-thirds of the members of representative bodies in each county government shall be of the same gender.

The primary objective of decentralization is to devolve power, resources and representation down to the local level. Specifically, the objects of devolution of government in Kenya were to promote democratic and accountable exercise of power; foster national unity by recognizing diversity; give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them; and recognize the right of communities to manage their own affairs and further their development;

Other pertinent intentions were to protect and promote the interests and rights of minorities and marginalized communities; promote social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services throughout the Country; ensure equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout the Country; facilitate the decentralization of State organs, their functions and services, from the capital; and enhance checks and balances and the separation of powers. To this end, various laws have been enacted by Parliament to create strategies for the implementation framework and the adoption on which the objectives of devolution can be realized..

The Constitution in the Fourth Schedule assigns functions between the National and County governments. The functions of National Government include Foreign affairs; use of international waters and water resources; immigration and citizenship; Language; agriculture; tourism; monetary; veterinary; energy, health and education policies; national defense; police service; courts; primary schools; transport and communications; and national public work, among others. On the other hand, the functions of county governments include agriculture; health services (excluding national referral hospitals); pollution control; cultural activities; animal control and welfare; trade development and regulation; county planning and development; and pre-primary education, among others.

It is my well-considered opinion that devolution has presented a major transformation of the state and undoubtedly reversed the system of centralized control and authority established by the colonial powers. It now opens the prospects of fundamental and progressive changes in both our politics and the economy. Through devolution, County Governments now not only have the mandate and budgetary provisions to deliver services relevant to the local population but are also required by Law to involve the people in the planning process. So far, we have witnessed County-driven infrastructural development through tarmacking of roads; development of markets; provision of water for both irrigation and domestic use; provision of agricultural and extension services; facilitation of early child development(ECD); enhancement of access to health care; creation of investments and trading blocs; promotion of leadership’ accountability in the utilization of funds; increased public-participation in the prioritization of key projects; and better access to information on both policy and operational issues.

However, fundamental challenges have continued to dog the Counties including irregular or delayed disbursement of devolved funds from the national Exchequer; low revenue collection levels from local sources; weak and uncoordinated planning and execution; stalled projects; inadequate financial  resources; corruption; misallocation of the available financial resources; over-indebtedness including bank overdrafts negotiated to off-set wages and salaries; huge pending bills; bloated workforce; tribalism, nepotism and clannism in the employment and deployment of workers; persistent political wrangling and infighting; inadequate capacity at the county level to effectively and efficiently perform the devolved functions; instances of duplicity of effort at both the national and county levels; and utilization of budgetary allocations on non-core activities in contravention of  the Public Finance Management Act. However, there are opportunities for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and capital inflow; Public-Private Partnerships (PPP); Grants; exchange programmes; and wider markets for local products, that the Counties need to explore and pursue.

Emerging issues within the Counties include the need for better planning; strengthened performance management framework; improvement in quality of County leadership; prioritization of investment in thematic areas based on comparative advantage; strengthened  public participation in project identification, planning and execution; intensified financial resource-mobilization; improved governance framework to facilitate prudent utilization of resources and enforce accountability at all levels; rationalization of staffing levels; optimization of the wage-bill; institutional capacity building; determination of relevant training needs and corresponding staff training; eradication of duplicity of effort; massive sensitization of both leaders and the citizens on relevant pieces of legislation supporting devolution; massive Culture and Attitudinal change programmes; strengthening of the monitoring, evaluation and reporting framework; enhanced strategic alliances and partnerships; effective management of resistance to change; and benchmarking with best-case examples globally. My humble submission is that unless and until the afforestated strategic issues are adequately addressed, it would remain insurmountable for the devolved system of government in Kenya to facilitate prudent, efficient and effective delivery of services to the citizenry at the grassroots. This is my hypothesis.

The Writer is a Management Consultant

Leave a Reply