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Devolution the way to go: Kenyan expert

Kenyan devolution expert, Patrick Karanja (PC) has challenged Zimbabwe to accept the idea of devolution.

In a wide-ranging interview in the six-part series on devolution by Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the online talk show In Conversation with Trevor, Karanja spoke about Kenya’s experience in enacting devolution. He said devolution should not be accepted grudgingly as a way of silencing people because they demanded it.

TN: Welcome to In Conversation with Trevor, Devolution series Part 3, brought to you by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), supported by the Embassy of Switzerland in Harare. Today, my guest is Patrick Karanja, the acting director for inter-governmental relations in the ministry of Devolution in Kenya.

Our focus today is going to be on inclusive governance and economic transformation as a result of devolution. Take us through the reasons that resulted in, on August 27, 2010, Kenya promulgating the new constitution that had a very strong component of devolution and on March 23, devolution actually being rolled out.

What is the background to the decision?

PK: What happened is that during the Cold War era, we had, like in many African countries, a one-party system in Kenya, which was not responding to the wishes of the people in matters of governance and economic development. There was a bit of agitation, but it gained momentum at the end of the cold war season. In 1992, we moved from being a one-party system to a multi-party system.

However, we were a multi-party system in Kenya, but based still on an old constitution. We realised that just having a multi-party system was not sufficient.

We needed also to support the same with the opening-up of the political space and, therefore, we started discussing on changing the constitution so that we would have a constitution to help us move our country.

One of the things we decided to do was to decentralise the system and we also realised one thing, and I think this is one challenge we have in Africa, that the seat of the president is highly valued because of the kind of privileges a president can give to his country. So, every community wants a president from their community because they know what they are going to have. We also tried to displace the power from the president to the decentralised unit. In Kenya we have a decentralised unit which in the past was anti-government.

TN: I thought that the post-election violence of 2008 also had an impact on that decision, am I wrong?

PK: Yes, it is still part of our immediate history, but the conversation had started much earlier. The conversation to change the governing system had started in 1992 when we realised that having a multi-party system was a very good thing, but having a multi-party system in the country where the governance structure still supports a very highly centralised system doesn’t help much. We decided that this multi-party system will become more effective if it is coupled together with a more devolved system. In 2007, during the election, it catalysed the whole discussion and it created an impetus for us to eventually quickly reach into a new governance system.

TN: Take me through the key steps that had to be considered in coming up with this constitution, particularly the devolution component of it.

PK: I did play a very key role at the development of the constitution. My team developed the six critical roles that are used to govern devolution in our country. One of the things that you may appreciate is that, when you are devolving, you are basically transferring power and resources from the centre. Trying to devolve power isn’t easy. That is the biggest problem we had; to start off by having four critical laws. One of the things we had to do was to make sure that our devolved units have the capacity and have the powers to manage the resources they receive. Devolution also brings with its mismanagement of resources.

TN: Tell us, who sits in the county executive?

PK: The county executive is composed of the governor and the deputy governor, these are the chief executives of the county government and these are running mates during elections. They are required by law to appoint a maximum of 10 ministers, we call them county executive members, but they are the equivalent of ministers at national level. A county has an executive governor, a deputy governor and 10 executive members. It is kind of a replica of a government at national level.

TN: So the other 10 are appointed not elected, Patrick?

PK: They are appointed by the governor, but with the approval of the county executive. They have to undergo a vetting process.

TN: Your job sits right at the centre of the central government and the county government. Tell me, what were the biggest challenges you had to deal with since 2013 when this law was finally rolled out?

PK: There have been several challenges, but the first big challenge is mindset. Initially, it was quite a big challenge; officials didn’t want to go. At the national level, we had a mindset of officials not wanting to let go.

TN: What’s been the way of smoothing out, how has Kenya been able to manage the tension?

PK: What we have done through my department is, we have had a number of meetings. We realised it is a mindset issue, therefore, we needed to have a discussion with the sub-national governments so that they can appreciate what their autonomy is… We had quite a number of operations.
TN: Any other challenges?

PK: It is a bit difficult to solve all the problems because any other day, there is always a problem. The effectiveness of the county in the despatching of its functions relies on the effectiveness of the national government in performing its functions. For government to perform its functions on security, it also needs the country government. For example, street lighting is connected to security, the national government is concerned with security, but the county government is concerned with street lighting. The two, therefore, have to work together. There is, however, some conflict of interest and what we do is to bring them together and see what should be done to solve it.

TN: You have just confirmed the portfolios central government is responsible with will include foreign affairs, finance, defence, policing, which other ones?
PK: The national government has been given the mandate of policing all secrets. But agriculture, health, etc, have been devolved to the county level, but the policy, development, standard, monitoring and evaluation remains at the national level. The national level does policing at all levels. Economic policy is a responsibility of national government, foreign affairs, national government with the assistance of county government.

TN: Correct me if I am wrong. I am imagining that, a county that is run by the opposition, the tension is going to be slightly different than a county run by the ruling party. Am I correct?

PK: No, I think the most interesting thing in Kenya is that, you can never tell which county is run by the opposition and the ruling party. You can never tell when there is a meeting. You will only know they are the opposition if they say so, in terms of operation, you will never tell. Counties have formed associations — 47 of them — and they only focus on matters affecting the counties and at no point is the issue of politics arising, never.

TN: The issue of sharing national revenue and the formula used to do so. What are the revenue sources of counties apart from nationally raised funds?

PK: The nationally raised revenue, the constitution has given the counties a floor; but has not given a ceiling. They get 15% of all nationally raised revenue as per last audited and approved account. However, the national government has been giving them double the 15% because of the functions they perform.

TN: What about at county level, what are the sources of revenues?

PK: There are two levels, fees and charges and property tax. Those are the main sources of revenue by the county governments. These include business licencing, market fees.

TN: In a nutshell, do you think devolution has had an impact on Kenya’s economy?

PK: The most wonderful thing that has ever happened to our country is embracing devolution. We had devolution for the past six years, approximately, and over 50% of the counties can tell you that the economic development they have seen in the period is more than what they had seen since independence. The health sector is the biggest beneficiary.

TN: From what you are saying, the local communities must feel empowered? Is that what you are saying?

PK: Precisely. The development that has been done in communities in the six years has been very encouraging. Marginalised communities have benefited more from devolution.

TN: What has been the issue of capacity in service delivery in these counties?

PK: I can call it a challenge because, suddenly, the number of functions given to the counties has increased. The capacity is still lower than what the people expect in those counties. The national government is working on capacity building programmes; there is actually a department for that.

TN: Has Kenya experienced devolution of negative mindset such as corruption from national government to counties?

PK: Yes, one of the main challenges we have faced in these county governments is corruption, but agencies are doing their job, people are arrested, but the best thing is to change mindset.

TN: What are the negatives drawn from devolution? The negatives you are battling with, trends brought by devolution?

PK: Devolution is very positive, but two issues, balkanisation of the whole country. Most of the counties have predominant communities. People now employed in respective communities. We have foreseen that challenge and we have a law that requires counties to employ 30% from outside their communities.

TN: So the minorities will end up marginalised?

PK: Yes.

TN: How is it being overcome?

PK: To enforce the law. Counties are forced to publish the number of people they employ and the ratios.

TN: The other negative area?

PK: The issue of corruption. All government money released for certain purposes, if it could have been used for that purpose, the development would have been more.

TN: Given the experience you have, the concept of devolution in Kenya, what advice do you give to Zimbabwe?

PK: The first thing is to accept the idea of devolution. The idea has been accepted, and it should not be grudgingly, as a way of silencing people because they demanded for it and then ignore it after sometime. We need to be clear about the funding. Avoid concurrent functions, it creates misunderstandings.

Accountability is very key to make sure people have value for their money.

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