Ideas & Debate

Leaders should act today with tomorrow’s vision

Treasury CS Ukur Yatani
Treasury CS Ukur Yatani. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

In a couple of weeks, we’ll celebrate 10 years since our “world-beating” constitution was promulgated. That’s difficult to imagine when we observe the high-octane “cartoonery” that our Senate has offered us in recent times. Yes, resource sharing is a political “give and take’ process, but, please, we’ve seen more “fakery” in their debate around “facts” than the stories we read about love and life on planet Mars.

I’m writing right before our Senate sits for a ninth time to debate a “substantive” motion to amend the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) formula when they’ve already passed an amendment to an amendment to the self-same motion. We’ll probably end up with the square root of FA (and I don’t mean that UK footie cup tourney). That the Senate Finance Committee suggested that the square root of land area works better than actual land space, while cutting its weighting in “the formula” says everything about Kenya’s political banditry.

Back to our constitution, which needs constitutionalism (implementation), not a constitutional moment. Kenya’s Jubilee administration was blessed with the great honour of moving the country forward using this great document. Here a couple of thoughts as we begin our reflection over the coming fortnight.

First, devolution as local choices first, then money second. I’ve spent the best part of the past five years working in and with counties, and I can confirm it’s been a good thing. Perfect? No. Learning by doing? Definitely. However, numbers matter, so here’s what our effete Senate, which we envisaged would be a “House of Knowledge and Wisdom”; a truly differentiating conclave of thinking politicians beyond cacophony; might reflect upon.

Let’s use numbers from our recent Economic Surveys. Health is a devolved function. In 2012/13, central government spent Sh72 billion on this stuff. In devolution’s first full year – 2013/14 – national government spent Sh38 billion, and counties Sh8 billion. In total, that’s Sh26 billion less. How, and why? The catch-up has been quick. 2019/20 estimates suggest we spent Sh230 billion on health, cut roughly equally been national and county governments. In the past seven years, counties have spent Sh495 billion on health, while national has jogged Sh433 billion. Health is a devolved function.


Agriculture is also devolved. In 2012/13, central government blew Sh42 billion on the stuff. In Year One of devolution, national government spent Sh41 billion, while counties did around Sh3 billion. 2019/20? Sh59 billion on national spend versus Sh33 billion across counties. The seven-year scorecard reads: national Sh321 billion, counties Sh107 billion. Agriculture is a devolved function.

Between agriculture and health, that’s a total of Sh1.3 trillion in a seven-year cash burn; with less than half (Sh600 billion) actually devolved. Then again, this is the administration that’s spent almost Sh2 trillion on transport infrastructure, of which counties account for ten per cent. Remember, we’ve spent Sh14.2 trillion in the past seven years (of which Sh1.9 trillion was devolved) and we’ve “earned” (through revenues) Sh9.5 trillion. That’s the Sh4.7 trillion debt increase we now see, but I repeat myself. I’m quite sure we didn’t “super-majorly” vote for a new constitution to get bigger national government.

Ah, national government, my second point. That the constitution demanded that we shift development and service delivery (the two critical intermingling components of any revenue sharing formula) to counties offered the promise that national government would be a wellspring of great ideas; fine policy to beat our “wicked” problems and national initiatives that would spur local economic development across counties. Let’s sample national government’s “85 per cent of resources” thinking scorecard.

A million acres under agriculture (Galana-Kulalu)? Somewhere between moribund and mothballed. Were the relevant counties involved? Why a million acres in Tana River, not, say, Laikipia? Hmm. Healthcare managed equipment scheme. Needs assessment anyone? Like human resource needs, or actual electricity? Nkt. Laptops, rather than digital labs? Oh, right! Stadia? Oy, let the grass grow green first!

Now, “Big Four”? Sorry, those are county functions but they don’t know it (devolution, anyone?). Then there’s “Huduma Namba”, now MIA (Missing in Action). The world-first idea here was to integrate people, land, establishments (including companies) and asset data in a “single version of the truth” mega-database; nobody’s integrated all of this before, no one still has. It is tempting to think that a couple of these ideas might have improved our “Corona-readiness’ if official thievery and grand larceny weren’t so pervasive.

The infestation in our “big fat ideas” lab isn’t shut yet. An aviation holding company to get Kenya Airports Authority(KAA) and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport(JKIA) to cushion KQ. A South African-style transport and logistics network (carbon copy of Transnet, not an extract from that Parastatal Reforms report) to get cash-rich KPA to shield SGR and pipeline debt from foreign creditors. What next? A “re-combo” of the electric power sector to cover a flailing and debt-ridden Kenya Power? Read re-centralization and a return to the 1960’s “commanding heights” economy of the predatory state in a fast-paced 21st century setting.

Here’s a triple-play question which might interest our post-2022 leaders. Is this administration taking us backwards in its ham-fisted quest to move some of us forwards? More simply, did the constitution ever matter? Most digitally, is katiba our transformative software, or a hardware “add-on”? Enough already.