The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) led by its chair Charles Nyachae has been consistent when it comes to Devolution of government and public participation since the Promulgation of the Constitution 2010.
The Commission has expressed exasperation with how counties are implementing devolution in as much as he proposed Inter-governmental mechanisms to help in addressing the bottlenecks.
“It is important to engage the public in a bid to make sure they have an understanding of what their government is undertaking. If the constitution and the enabling legislations are followed as expected there is no reason as to why devolution should not succeed,”notes Nyachae while in Busia County in a meeting with the area Governor Sospeter Ojaamong and his Deputy Kizito Wangalwa.
All Governors have showed their commitment in ensuring that devolution exercise succeeds however, it seems they are yet to understand the full meaning of that.
Alexander Chagema a Kakamega County resident says,
“Realization of devolution as envisaged will come at a heavy cost which translates into heavier taxation at a time when the purchasing power of the ordinary citizen has been seriously eroded by a non performing economy.”
He adds that,
“Governors are determined to raise revenue within their respective counties through introduction of numerous, often punitive taxes, a move that has been met with hostile resistance, even serious riots in some counties. It is preposterous to expect citizens to pay the numerous hefty taxes being imposed at a time when the cost of living, medical care and education are a nightmare most people are hoping to wake up from.”
Evans Masyongo laments that the purpose and intent of devolution was noble. The implementation is a far cry from what was envisioned.
“I am equally perturbed by the obsession by counties to tax. I am a one disappointed Kakamega.”
Ambrose Makokha from Cherangany in Trans Nzoia County says being taxed is not bad but there is need for proper mechanisms that will ensure service delivery.
The objectives of devolution in Kenya are stated under Article. 174 of the Constitution among them are:
To promote social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services throughout Kenya; to give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them; to recognize the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development amongst others.
However, most counties have breached articles 201 and 209 of the Constitution with their new proposed tax measures.
Wolfgang Fengler, the WorldBank’s Country Sector Leader for the Private and Financial Sector for the Western Balkans and formerly the World Bank’s Lead Economist in the Nairobi office had said the challenge for Kenya’s policy makers will be to manage devolution expectations carefully because the risk of disappointment will be huge.
Chagema observes that he has seen families bury their dead kin in off cuts because a coffin that cost Ksh 2000 is a luxury they can only dream of. How then do they raise Sh 5000 to get a burial permit? If residents have to pay Sh20 for every chicken reared, Sh300 for every pig and 500 for every head of cattle one has, is it worthy starting projects involving the same considering the project costs?
“Learning By Doing: Toward Better. County Budgets in 2014/15,” a Joint Policy Brief by Institute of Economic Affairs, TISA, International Budget Partnership, WALINET, World Vision Kenya, ARTICLE 19, and I Choose Life – Africa after analyzing a number of 2013/14 budgets, with a specific focus on the budgets of 5 counties where we work: Laikipia, Busia, Homa Bay, Uasin Gishu and Nairobi, noted that:
One, most county budgets do not contain any detailed explanation of the choices made in the budget, or the nature and relevance of different programmes. Thus, recommends that during the budget formulation, they should include a narrative description of programmes to accompany any tables. In addition to information that may be made available through a budget statement or speech, there is a need for a publicly available narrative that explains the assumptions used in the budget (assumptions about revenues and costs, etc.) as well as the reasons for spending more in some areas than others.
Two, the policy brief notes many counties have budget lines that are unclear for instance, Busia: “Trees for Jobs” and “County youth friendly medical centres” has not clarified what they are and how money will be spent while Uasin Gishu “County Government Association Membership fee” and “Inter-County forum Contribution” not clarifying how different they are from each other.
They recommend that Good budgets should either have budget lines that are easily understandable to anyone, or they should contain additional notes that explain budget lines that are not self-evident. It is generally a matter of common sense to determine what is easily understandable and what is not in a budget, but county governments should also be able to determine this from public engagements during the budget process.
In a rejoinder, Fengler says,
“In fact, devolution requires sustained central coordination to be effective. Central systems serve two main purposes: to make sure weaker counties’ needs are being addressed through capacity building and that the spending and performance of county governments can be compared on a common basis thanks to accountability systems.”
On the other hand, the CIC Chair says the County Governments should not focus just focus on revenue collection but emphasis on how it is spent in an accountable manner that does not burden the tax payer.
He emphasizes the need to enlighten residents on the importance of paying tax, encourage public consultation when drafting the Finance Bill and also seek their views during its formulation.
On the centrally, for instance Busia County, there is an allocation for public participation, but it is only in the County Assembly budget. How will Counties stand out to be viable units that promote social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services throughout Kenya and ensuring equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout Kenya?
The Policy Brief recommends the need for county governments to clarify how they plan to undertake public consultations, explain this clearly, establish structures, and set aside sufficient funds for this that can be easily found in the budget as required by the Public Finance Management Act.