I spent this ended week as part of a team of researchers undertaking a reconnaissance visit to two counties. Every time I travel to counties, I am extremely happy with the progress that the country has made since the adoption of devolution. Not just in the state of infrastructure within the county headquarters but also the level of service delivery.
For the two counties that I visited, ranging from the beehive of activities taking place, the numbers of those employed to the extent of provision water service provision in one of the counties the pace of development in the country has accelerated over the last decade. County Governments have played a huge catalytic role in this regard.
Several challenges, however, continue to hinder the full realization of the promise and potential of devolution.
I witnessed firsthand one of these, being the question of unbundling of functions. When the transition process commenced, a Transition Authority was established to enable the transfer of functions and assets and liabilities from the National to County Government to be undertaken in an orderly and seamless manner.
However, the Authority did not comprehensive undertake its task, resulting in the transition process being messy and incomplete. The situation has not been fully dealt with ten years later.
The Water sector is a perfect example of the contradictory nature of the relationship between national and county government. While the Constitution provides for sharing of responsibility in the water sector, the way the Water Act, 2016 has delineated the sharing has not provided sufficient clarity or inhered inter-governmental collaboration.
As a consequence from the time the law was enacted, and even before there was and contoured to be huge contestation between the two levels of government.
One of the interesting institutions in the water sector are the companies formed to be responsible for water and sanitation services. This was initially formed in Nairobi as part of the reforms under the Water Act 2002 to deal with the then obtaining inefficiency and corruption in the water sector.
They continue to exist under the Water Act 2016. They are registered as distinct corporations and are supposed to subsidiaries of the county governments. They also have a linkage with the national government which also has a role over its assets.
The challenge is the relationship results in lack of accountability with the County Government being saddled with the duty of paying electricity bills and purchasing chemicals for the company but having very little control over its operations.
This loophole provides avenues for revenue leakages since the company has no obligation to run an efficient system as its operations are underwritten by the county government. This arrangement is untidy and demonstrates the urgency if aligning the operations of the institutions in the water sector to devolution.
The second example relates to agriculture. The Constitution clearly required that agriculture be fully devolved to counties. The second county that I visited as part of my research last week had a robust agricultural system. However, when I discussed with them the question of regulating the use of pesticides, they explained the continuing role of the Pest Control Board.
This is a national government agency. The practical challenge of its institutional and operational design is that its regional offices are in a few areas of the country. For example, the Board has an office in Kisumu which serves several counties in the former Nyanza and Western Provinces.
They have then designated an officer to support operations in more than three counties. In practice, therefore, they cannot provide rapid services in instances where a county requires their service, for example, when there are cases of sub-standard or even banned pesticides that have been found in the county. This defeats the rationale for devolution and efficient and proximate service delivery.
These two examples are practical demonstration of the institutional reengineering required to fully support devolution. Inter-governmental relations need to recognize that devolution is here to stay, the continued existence of some parastatals at the national level is anachronistic and an obstruction to effective and efficient service delivery.
The next elections mark the end of the first decade of county governments. It is urgent that these reforms be fast-tracked as we commence the next decade following the August General Elections.