Hon Tim Wanyonyi, MP, Westlands Constituency
The adoption of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 marked a major milestone in the way the country is to be governed. It provides for the sharing of political power and economic resources from the central government in Nairobi to the Counties at the grassroots in a process known as devolution. Devolution is one of the notable key pillars of the Constitution and seeks to bring Government closer to the people. The county governments are now at the centre of dispersing political power and economic resources to Kenyans at the local levels.
The Constitution created 47 county governments and the Senate as part of the implementation of devolution. The 47 county governments have been tasked with specific mandates, with power to make laws through their legislative arm, the county assembly. However, more functions and resources need to be devolved to the county government for Kenyans to reap fully benefits of the devolution.
Before the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, there was a reality of majority of citizens being marginalized, neglected, deprived of resources and victimized for political or ethnic affiliations. Areas that did not support the President were penalized in terms of development and resources and discriminated against. There was also particular resentment of the Provincial Administration, which was accused of abuse of powers bestowed upon its officers. Local authorities had also failed to deliver services and had been turned into dens of corruption. These were among the many reasons that intensified the push for a new constitutional dispensation and devolution that was finally achieved in 2010.
The Constitution under Article 174 provides that the objective of devolution include the following: promotion of democratic and accountable exercise of power; fostering national unity by recognizing diversity and giving powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State. Others are recognition of the right of communities to manage their own affairs; promotion of social and economic development and the provision of services throughout Kenya and ensuring equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout Kenya, among others.
Devolution has increasingly been adopted worldwide as a guarantee against arbitrary use of power. It has also been touted as increasing efficiency in social service provision, by allowing for a closer match between public policies and the desires and needs of people at the grassroots levels. Kenya’s Constitution entrenches devolved government by guaranteeing a minimum unconditional transfer of funds and power to counties. The fourth schedule of the Constitution spells out functions to be performed by county governments to include: agriculture, county health services (excluding national referral hospitals), pollution control and cultural activities, among others. However, the central government in Kenya has retained most of the functions which are critical for economic and social development of the country which are better performed by county governments. In most jurisdictions of the world where devolution has worked, like the U.S has devolved most of the functions and only retained a few critical ones like monetary policy and defence.
Counties are better placed than the central Government to deliver most of the services to the people because they face specific challenges and have the local knowledge to address them. Besides the improvements in service delivery, people have the opportunity to participate in governance and decision making rather than following directions imposed by a central government. With a constitutional guarantee of unconditional transfers from the centre, Kenya’s counties will have the means and the autonomy to address local needs, and their citizens will be more able to hold them accountable for their performance.
Devolution is going to help Kenya in realizing equitable distribution of resources especially to regions that have been marginalized for decades and hence spur development in these regions. Timely and efficient delivery of public services such as healthcare, education and infrastructure will be achieved if the central government allows the counties to run these functions efficiently by devolving more funds and powers to the counties. This will also allow Kenyans to take charge of their development initiatives from the grass—root levels through prioritizing of their needs and avoid political tensions at the national level by devolving leadership to the grassroots.
Hon Tim Wanyonyi is the MP, Westlands Constituency in Nairobi.