In the devolution utopia, governors, county assemblies and the National Government will work hand in hand to ensure that the peoples of Kenya, at the grassroots, will receive the services they need, when they need them at a price that does not raise their taxes. Uhuru Kenyatta, bending to the will of the governors of Kenya, has directed the National Government to devolve all functions of the devolved government to the counties. Whether this will be smoothly implemented depends entirely on how we define "smooth."
Our recent experience in governance, such as it is, has been a lesson in the perseverance of the peoples of Kenya. Immediately elected representatives took office, bar one or two, there was an ungodly clamour for better terms and conditions. When Mwai Kibaki faced the same demand from the judiciary in 2011, he bent over backwards to accommodate them. Uhuru Kenyatta attempted to strong-arm the members of the Eleventh Parliament and failed. In the end, the Deputy President was forced to negotiate a compromise between the elected representatives, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and the Parliamentary Service Commission.
This places the devolution of all functions to the county governments in context. Arguments that have been advanced about the readiness of the counties to perform these functions have glossed over the fact that county governments are nowhere near ready to perform all their functions. Many of the counties are yet to fully set up their executive committees or their county public services. They are yet to agree on a legislative agenda, a development agenda or a priority list of projects that must be completed in the first year. Much of the infrastructure of a government is not yet in place. It beggars belief that a government that does not have a functioning information and communications technology infrastructure is in a position to implement any programme, bar the consumption of money.
Much of the blame for the state of affairs can be laid at the feet of the Transitional Authority which could not even stand up to the National Government regarding the niggling matter of official office space for county governments. When it was established, the TA, rather than determine what structures would be required for the smooth handover of functions from the National Government to the devolved government, it spent much of its time attempting to stamp its authority in the process. It was so busy trying to show up the erstwhile Ministry of Local Government that it failed to anticipate that governors and county assemblies were woefully unprepared for the rigours of governing in environments that had become inured to incompetence and corruption.
Devolution is supposed to be a panacea for the ills engendered by the sloth and corruption of local authorities. In 2009, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission published a list of the most corrupt local authorities. It attempted, and failed, to assist local authorities to recover lost properties and monies. These problems have been inherited by the county governments. For example, the county governments of Mombasa and Nairobi inherited debts from the local authorities that run into tens of billions of shillings. The TA was supposed to assist the county governments to identify these debts, who the local authorities owed and how much, and what the law on the payment of these debts was. Instead, it went on a harebrained programme of identifying assets that belonged to the counties and what belonged to the National Government and whether one set would be transferred to one government or the other. As it is, county governments inherited books of account that would require a billion Chinese to untangle.
The Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning faces an undaunted and unenviable task between now and July 1st. She must do the job of the TA at the same time as spearhead the National Government's efforts to make devolution a success. She must map out the steps required to ensure that the devolution of functions from the National Government to the devolved government hits all its benchmarks and ensures that the devolved government not only has the capacity to perform all its functions but also to take over functions that are unanticipated. If she fails, or if she is thwarted in her efforts, devolution will be dead in all but name. The TA is a lost cause; it is now up to the Cabinet Secretary.