Fallacy of ‘one man one shilling’ formula in resource allocation

The National Treasury building in Nairobi.  

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Propagated by some central Kenya politicians, a contentious concept of “one man, one shilling” budget allocation, which argues that counties should receive national funds in direct proportion to their economic output, as measured by gross value added (GVA), has dominated political discourse in the country lately.

On the surface, this proposal carries an alluring simplicity—those who produce more should receive more.

However, the ‘one man, one shilling’ model, when subjected to rigorous analysis, reveals itself to be a deeply flawed and potentially damaging approach to national budgeting.

To understand the limitations of this argument, we must first examine the county-level GVA data itself.

The figures, as per Kenya National Bureau of Statistics GVA data 2018-2022, paint a picture of a nation with stark economic disparities. Nairobi emerges as the titan of productivity, single-handedly generating 27.5 percent of Kenya’s total output. The central Kenya counties, while certainly punching above their weight, trail far behind—Kiambu at 5.7 percent, Nyeri at two percent, Murang’a at two percent, and Kirinyaga at 1.3 percent. While these numbers exceed the national county average of around 2.4 percent, they hardly establish central Kenya as the singular engine of our economy.

Yet, even if we were to accept the premise that economic output should dictate budget allocations, the “one man one shilling” argument stumbles when confronted with the complexities of equitable resource distribution. It ignores the crucial distinction between a county’s output and its needs.

Less developed counties, though their GVA contributions may be modest, often require disproportionate investments in public services, infrastructure, and development initiatives to bridge the gap. Allocating funds based solely on economic performance would entrench regional disparities, leaving struggling counties perpetually behind.

As we navigate the intricacies of resource allocation, let us resist the temptation of easy answers and political point-scoring. Let us instead embrace a thoughtful, nuanced approach—one that recognises our diversity as a strength, not a weakness. By crafting a budget that balances economic realities with principles of fairness and equity, we can build a Kenya that works for all its citizens, from the highlands of central to the coast of the Indian Ocean.

The writer is a management and development specialist. [email protected]

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