The country is now well into the second term under a devolved system of governance. Expectations for county governments are now greater than before. In the first term of devolution, counties reported a number of challenges that impeded their efforts to effect change at the local level.
County governments cited frustration from the national government in terms of financial allocation and disbursement as the main hindrance. Institutional challenges stifled the rate of development as delivered by the counties as well.
Additionally, establishing the various county level institutions took a sizeable fraction of the budgets for the counties, from setting up governors’ offices, to County Assembly chambers and departmental headquarters, and sub-county administrative centres.
Aside from the factors that may be out of county governments’ control, county administration was marred with increasing incidents of corruption, gross mismanagement and lack of accountability in how county funds were spent.
Challenges that stalled development in the previous system of governance seemingly trickled down to the devolved units.
For the new county governments, there’s a lot to be done to win back the trust of the citizenry. A good place to start would be improving livelihoods through increasing infrastructure development and improving access to and quality of amenities.
Devolved functions such as healthcare, agriculture and education should be improving at a better rate at the counties.
Unlike their predecessors, the new county governments cannot claim to be apportioning budgetary allocations to setting up structures for the county government.
Essentially, development budget should target other areas of governance mandated by the Constitution. Kenyans should be keen in ensuring county governments deliver in this regard.
The priority areas that can directly impact lives include: county health services, county transport (including roads and street lighting), water and sanitation, county planning and development, and agriculture.
With respect to the latter, the Makueni Fruit Processing Plant stands out so far. Because of this processing plant, farmers in the county will be able to reduce wastage and increase their income from fruit planting.
The local community will also have an opportunity to own a stake in the plant and grow their wealth, learn new technologies and learn about value addition to increase farm incomes.
In addition, beyond participation in the ballot process, citizens should be proactive in holding elected leaders to account. Regular participation in legislative processes (including community barazas) is key.
Religious groups, community based organisations, and other local groups can be at the forefront in mobilizing community members towards this end.
Moving forward, we should look into the proposal of providing a mechanism in law through which members of county assemblies (MCAs), governors and MPs can regularly meet their constituents to discuss development priorities and challenges the county is facing.
We need to put an end to the trend of leaders only being visible on the ground when campaigning for reelection at the end of an election cycle.
Washe Kazungu, land and natural resource management specialist.