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The new Kenya: How a complex devolved system will change the country

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The radical changes are likely to be more tangible to the man on the street, but raise questions on whether the country is prepared to navigate this brave new world. TEA Graphic

The radical changes are likely to be more tangible to the man on the street, but raise questions on whether the country is prepared to navigate this brave new world. TEA Graphic  Nation Media Group

By CHRISTINE MUNGAI The EastAfrican

Posted  Saturday, March 16   2013 at  18:49

In Summary

  • The new dispensation is particularly distinct in the way it distributes power among the various arms of government and in the establishment of an elaborate system of checks and balances to curb abuses by senior public officials.
  • Kenya’s devolution project is particularly ambitious as it is one of few in the world that shifts power from the centre to entirely new local administrations set up from scratch.
  • How should the redistribution be implemented? Kenya’s counties start from very different positions, but experts at the World Bank say the immediate priority should be preserving existing service delivery.
  • The devolved governments are likely to worsen Kenya’s budgetary constraints, analysts said.
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Kenyans have started on the hard part of living with the most far-reaching administrative reforms in the country’s post-Independence history, as power shifts from the central government to the 47 counties, following the March 4 General Election.

The radical changes are likely to be more tangible to the man on the street, but raise questions on whether the country is prepared to navigate this brave new world.

The new dispensation is particularly distinct in the way it distributes power among the various arms of government and in the establishment of an elaborate system of checks and balances to curb abuses by senior public officials.

On March 4, the country’s governance structure transformed overnight, as significant control and executive decision-making was devolved to local administrations.

All eyes, economists said, will be on the ability of the devolved structure to stem the country’s widening inequalities — in the provision of education, health, infrastructure, water and other crucial services — across the counties as well as to fight poverty.

A May 2012 report by the World Bank showed that Kenya’s poverty levels have oscillated between 44 and 46 per cent over the past six years. However, this represents an improvement from 12 years ago when the poverty level stood at 56 per cent before falling to 46 per cent in 2005.

Experts warned it will take time for Kenyans to understand how the new government will work, and without skilful management both at national and county levels, the central promise of the country’s new Constitution could end up being stillborn.

Kenya’s devolution project is particularly ambitious as it is one of few in the world that shifts power from the centre to entirely new local administrations set up from scratch.

Previously, the country was divided into eight provinces and over 100 districts, but executive power was largely vested in the central government headquartered in Nairobi.

Now, 47 governors with their respective county assemblies will be in charge of the new local administrations to oversee functions such as agriculture, health facilities, sanitation, transport and trade licences, as well as the responsibility to generate revenue for the county — likely to be in the form of various taxes. The national government remains in charge of education, security, foreign policy, and national economic policy and planning.

According to a report by the World Bank, although devolution is seen by many as the “magic bullet” that will allow the country to correct historical patterns of neglect, it is by no means certain that it can radically alter these imbalances by itself.

“In fact [devolution] could even result in entrenching disparities if the right policies are not implemented,” the report says. “A rushed transition could set up counties to fail by giving them responsibilities before they have the capacity to carry them out.”

How should the redistribution be implemented? Kenya’s counties start from very different positions, but experts at the World Bank say the immediate priority should be preserving existing service delivery — any drastic move to redistribute resources away from affluent towards destitute counties could result at best in severe fiscal stress, or even the collapse of essential service delivery.

The Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) has drafted a formula of sharing funds under the Equalisation Fund provided for in the Constitution to boost development in marginalised areas.

A schedule CRA released on February 29 showed less than a third of the 47 counties will benefit from the Ksh3 billion ($35.29 million) Equalisation Fund with Turkana taking the largest share in the next three years.

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