VOICE OF LIBERTY AFRICA: A New Age of Public Resource Waste in Kenya – Alex Ndungu Njeru


Kenya’s experience with devolution is turning out to be quite the sore. This is mainly because our devolution system apart from devolving ; wanton wastage of public resources, unabated corruption and nepotism all hallmarks of Kenya’s central government authority of yester years our devolution is not bearing forth fruit. Kenya’s experience with devolution thus far seems to provide evidence that Kenyans will achieve not the goals they envisioned when they voted for and passed a pro-devolution constitution devolution.

It seems the only inspiration that was spurring the politicians to campaign so fervently for the adoption of the 2010 constitution was the multiple opportunities it presented to the politicians and bureaucrats other than those in the central government to milk public coffers dry. Thus today, Kenyans are watching haplessly as not one government but a staggering 48 governments guzzle their taxes; one central government plus 47 county governments.  

Going back to history, devolution in Kenya was a necessity, mostly because before the promulgation of the 2010 constitution those in the in charge of the central government had hitherto used state power and state resources to; enrich themselves, give rent to their political mandarins, and punish regions and communities that were politically apathetic to their rule and course. As a consequence the; Jommo Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki regimes were accused of systematically under developing the regions where their political archenemies came from for political reasons as well as creating cliques of absolutely powerful political elites. That is why in 2010, Kenyans more so those from marginalized communities gave a resounding yes to a new constitution that compelled the government to spend and implement government projects through devolved units called counties as a measure to usher a new era of regional equity. The constitution expressly states that at least 15% of the national budget must be spent through the county governments under the leadership of elected county governors. Therein lies the problem, as it has turned out Kenyans gave a carte blanche to the 47 county governors in the country as the principle of autonomy dictates that the central government cannot interfere with the affairs of the county government. In the current fiscal year, 48 billion KES was divided among the counties through a determined revenue allocation formula.

The adoption of the name county in rather than; ‘state’ which was considered to be American or ‘province’ which was considered to be colonial, was in itself controversial. The fear at the time was that devolution would lead to the rise of immensely powerful governors, regional feudal lords so to speak.  It seems those fears have materialized.

One needs to look at the spending and the county government budgets to bring out what Kenyans are in for especially bearing in mind that county devolution has only be with us for 100 days only; since the March 4 election.

A county government in Western Kenya called Bungoma had previously passed a budget that included a whopping 56 million shillings to fight pornography. How appropriate, especially taking into consideration that there’s not a lot of pornography that emanates from such slung areas, and even if pornography was that rampant, 56 million? Am sure setting up an entire film industry would not be that expensive, leave alone fighting pornography. While other priority areas like investment in infrastructure remain underfunded.  After the public outcry that ensued, the county assembly appropriately diverted the funds to be used for the purpose of entertaining the; county governor, his deputy and the county assembly speaker. How can you spend 56 million for entertainment? That entertainment would kill you if it were not carried out? A further 11 million was allocated for the travel expenses of the governor. I am sure he must be readying himself for a trip to space.  Makes me feel for this nation especially considering that the county governor, Mr. Ken Lusaka is a former permanent secretary.

Meanwhile the governor from the lakeside county of Kisumu, Mr. Jack Ranguma has been sleeping in a hotel since election as he awaits the completion of his new palatial home, the bill is already running into the millions. The county government has also approved the purchase of the very modest Toyota prado, at 72 million, this after their initial plan to buy 22 prados at 132 million caused public outcry. Not all is gloom though; the governor of Machakos County has gone on a charm offensive in an effort to attract investors and investment into his county.

From the look of it, it seems Kenyans are in for it, well until they can get the devolution matrix. Kenyans expected the 2010 constitution to be the magic bullet that would cure all her problems and more so the problems of governance and public resource use, it has not taken long for the optimism bud to be nipped and rather cruelly. A new psyche and culture is needed for us to achieve the society that we envisioned when passing the constitution for our leaders are not corrupt as we as a society are corrupt, right at the core, and it would be foolhardy for us to expect good leadership from a society that does not value prudence.

Kenyan counties start off with corruption and a very thin flash of hope writes Alex