Monday, March 19, 2018

Ward development funds are good

Broadly, elected representatives perform three roles: represent the members of their constituencies, make legislation for assent by the executive, and exercise oversight over members of the executive. In Kenya, though, we tend to do things a little different. Kenya's members of the National Assembly, in addition to their three traditional roles, used to perform development roles through their supervision and control of constituency development funds that were not expended by members of the executive but by members of constituency development committees who were overseen by parliamentarians.

In 2003 when the Constituencies Development Fund Act was enacted, it was as a result of what Parliament had come to accept as the skewed development policies of the executive that had resulted in great economic imbalances among many constituencies, with some receiving the lion's share of national development budgets and other making do with a pittance. The CDF was meant to ensure that there was greater equity in the distribution of development funds and the elected representatives of each constituency would have a greater role to play in the development of the constituency.

In 2010, Kenya promulgated a new constitution. Its chapter on public finance makes interesting reading but it is in, more or less, delineating the roles of the executive and elected representatives that it attempted to put the CDF genie back in the separation of powers bottle. Parliament resisted this attempt, even after the High Court declared that the Constituency Development Fund Act, 2003 was unconstitutional, as was its reincarnation, the Constituency Development Fund Act, 2013. Parliament finally found a workaround in the National Government Constituency Development Fund Act, 2015 in which National Government Constituency Development Committees did not have elected representatives as members.

It is interesting that a member of the senate wishes to establish a ward development committee fund along the lines of the 2015 CDF law, to establish ward-level development committees along the lines of the National Government Constituency Development Committees which would carry out development projects outside the control of the county executives.

One reason Kenya chose the devolution model was so that Parliament would allocate a sufficient amount of funds to devolved units to promote their development agenda. This Senate Bill carries this principle to its logical conclusion - it isn't enough that there are county executives that have been allocated funds for development because, even at that level of devolution, county executives may also neglect pockets of their counties. Ward development committees can act when both the constituency development committees and county executives fail to address all pockets of the county.

It is almost certain that this proposal will be resisted by the National Treasury and most county treasuries. Sound economic arguments will be made by both to support their argument that devolved development funds should be expended by county executives alone and that ward-level committees won't have the capacity to properly manage these new funds. These are more or less the same arguments that were made when the CDF was first set up and yet, fifteen years later, everyone agrees that it has done more good than bad. Rather than shoot down the ward-level funds idea, we should all pick the best lessons and practices of the CDF and apply them to the ward development funds. This would be in keeping with the spirit of devolution and the equitable management of public funds for the benefit of all Kenyans.

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