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Stop corruption to reap benefits of devolution

This is Kenya’s seventh year under a devolved system of government. Devolution in Kenya is not a new concept. In fact, ‘majimbo’, the Kiswahili word for regions, was a political hot potato before, during and after Kenya gained independence in 1963. It was mainly pushed by what were then considered minority tribes; Kalenjin, Luhya, and Mijikenya - as a counter-measure to Kikuyu and Luo hegemony.

For a moment, proponents of majimbo had their way when the LegCo constitution recognised regions based on the seven former provinces and set up a bicameral system of legislature consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly.

In 1964, national unity was used as an excuse to scrap the Senate and regional governments under the excuse that Kenyans must be united under a central government. Similar amendments were used to kill dissenting voices and ideologies when Section 2A was introduced, making Kenya a one-party state.

Throughout the 1970s to 1991, Kenya was under an imperial presidency. Any form of opposing views was branded treason, thus many politicians, authors, students, lecturers and journalists found themselves at odds with the government. Service delivery, access to government jobs and infrastructural development were dependent on the whims of the central government.

As such, Kenyans began to agitate for democracy, which culminated in the repeal of Section 2A of the Constitution and the first multiparty elections in 1992. Be that as it may, Kenyans continued to push for more civic space. This led to the Inter Parties Parliamentary Group that brought together government and opposition MPs for the purpose of prioritising legal reforms that would allow Kenya to go into the second multiparty elections fairly.

They earmarked several reforms, including the composition of the electoral commission and the expansion of freedom of association and assembly. After Mwai Kibaki’s election in 2002, the CDF was created via the Constituency Development Fund Act, 2003, thus introducing a new form of devolution of funds. Its main aim was to address poverty by dedicating a minimum of 2.5 per cent of government revenue to grassroots development.

The fund was praised for bringing development closer to the people by pioneering projects informed by needs and priorities of the local people. Every constituency began to witness development projects that were not attached to their political affiliation to the party or person in power.

Between 2003 and 2009, Kenya held intense discussions with the aim of bringing forth a new constitution. In the end, the form of devolution that was settled on was based on the original colonial districts, which became the current counties. The new Constitution set the amount of national revenue that goes to counties, and an equitable formula for distribution of resources based on population and hardship.

Seven years into devolution, discussions are being held on how to curb corruption in the counties, tribalism and nepotism, and waste of public resources. Several sitting governors and county officials are under investigation or facing charges.

Public prosecutions

Another biting issue is whether Kenya should have devolved healthcare as it seems to have been better managed by the national government. The Building Bridges Initiative proposes the creation of a Health Services Commission to bridge the healthcare gap.

Reports by the Office of the Controller of Budget have consistently shown that counties spend more on recurrent expenditure, such as salaries, allowances and travel expenses, than on development such as infrastructure.

Be that as it may, devolution has been a game-changer that has taken decision-making down to the people. However, our oversight mechanisms such as county assemblies, the Senate, Controller of Budget, Auditor General, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary must find a way to ensure that those plundering monies meant for the people and abusing their offices are held to account in a timely manner.

This article was originally published by Standard Media.

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