In Summary
  • Matters have been aggravated by corruption and pilferage. Several governors and top county officials have cases in court or are under investigation over corruption.

  • Annual reports by the Auditor-General catalogue worrying levels of graft in counties, which, unfortunately, go unresolved and unpunished.

  • Equally disconcerting is the fact that counties have singularly failed to create wealth and survive on their own without recourse to the national government.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s declaration that the government cannot raise funding to counties because there is no cash is a sobering reality. It is a call to Kenyans to debate critically the sustenance of county governments. The assertion muddles the raging conflict between the National Assembly and the Senate over the Division of Revenue Bill, a matter that has had to be litigated upon in courts and without resolution so far.

The substantive point of discussion is whether or not we can sustain the counties as currently constituted. Devolution carries the greatest aspirations of Kenyans; it democratises governance and empowers citizens to make decisions on matters germane to their localities. Since inception in 2013, devolution has changed fortunes at the grassroots, with huge sums of money disbursed to the counties.

However, the counties are becoming unsustainable because the funding model is unrealistic. Counties cannot be maintained by remissions from the national government. Constitutionally, the national government is required to allocate at least 15 per cent of the national income to the counties. But this presumes that on their own counties should raise other incomes through levies and programmes that create wealth to keep themselves afloat. Counties have become heavy spenders and the bulk of their incomes is channelled towards paying salaries and benefits. They have incredibly huge wage bills arising out of bloated workforce composed of non-productive workers mostly enlisted through political and kinship networks. Governors on their part have flooded their offices with fanciful aides and advisers who only raise headcount cost rather than adding value to the counties.

Matters have been aggravated by corruption and pilferage. Several governors and top county officials have cases in court or are under investigation over corruption. Annual reports by the Auditor-General catalogue worrying levels of graft in counties, which, unfortunately, go unresolved and unpunished.

Equally disconcerting is the fact that counties have singularly failed to create wealth and survive on their own without recourse to the national government.

Hence the question is: What is the most feasible model to keep the counties and the devolution dream alive? What safeguards should we put in place to insulate counties from ravenous individuals who have turned them into dens of graft and plunder?

We must revisit the question of financing counties and devise a practical and sustainable model. What we have currently cannot last long.