Monday, September 06, 2010

County Kenya - making your county viable

I see counties working only if they tick 4 boxes:

Financial control:
The world over local governance fails because for a whole host of reasons they spend more than they get from central govt or can collect locally. As of now, I'm aware of any financially solvent municipal or city council in Kenya. Its not Kenyan either. In the US, very few states are able to balance their books. In Kenya, the chief issue is not corruption but lack of financial control. Corruption is a by-product of this. Add politics and the cocktail is potent. Apart from the kind of auditing that is being done on CDFs, the second part has to come from the locals themselves. Seek accountability from your county by electing men/women of integrity and professionalism. Ksh2bn can look like a lot of cash but if your county has 1m population that is only Ksh2k each. Its not cash to be pilfered but to put into projects that will generate returns. Proper accounting, budgeting, project management and procurement processes will seal loopholes. Although, new Katiba doesn't have it, I expect some revenue raising powers for counties eventually. In any case, revenue and job creation measures will become a key differentiator between viable and non-viable counties. Hence,

Industrial base:
Nairobi has grown chiefly because its a magnet for most of the Kenyan brains. And many others. Counties without any employment prospects will become a mere curiosity. A grounded industrial policy should be one of the things each governor should be judged on. Measures to attract some of the industries currently congested in Nai's industrial should be looked at. Counties should consider setting aside 25% of their revenue to attract prospective employers be it via soft loans or even infrastructure development. While industrial development should be pegged on comparative advantages e.g. its no point Turkana setting a tea factory; certain counties may need to create the comparative advantages. As an example, Laikipia can look to set a meat processing concern or even look to aggressively market its tourism potential which is huge (Mt Kenya, Bantu lodge, Solio lunch, Samburu traditional homes etc). Others like Eldoret must look to turn the nearby Moi University into a R&D assembly point where students can come to study and build their lives as they become part of the next Silicon valley and so forth. No industrial base will really take off without...

Many counties have basic infrastructure. A touch of tarmac here; a few homes with electricity; very basic health centres. If a county is planning to become the next base for manufacturing of agricultural produce and other value-adding activities, it'll need power either from the national grid or by supporting solar energy collection. It may need a working airstrip or even airport to either transport produce to JKIA for onward transmission or direct to export markets. Roads will have to be good even for non-perishable produce as bad roads increase fuel costs. Its not just hard infrastructure, soft infrastructure in form of promoting R&D to locate to your county will create the brainpower to attract the employers that are needed. Upgrading and increasing the number of secondary schools (provide subsidised internet); technical schools supporting industries; universities will create a virtuous circle. Planning will also make a difference. Nyeri has had the same buildings and streets since I can remember i.e. late 80s, but also seems like many other towns to have sprang up a slum or two.

Minimise impact of politics:
Unless we get any external influences, competitive politics are here to stay. If Kenyans can't understand or won't play by the rules of such competitions, we'll have bloodshed or the kind of tension we had between 2005-8. Eventually, you find the economy goes backward as ours did in 2008-9 period. County govts that fall prey to negative politics will become like in the council of Nai or even Momba where nothing really progresses because the political animals can't see the big picture. How do you minimise negative politics? This comes back to the local county people electing men and women of integrity. It doesn't matter what you want as a county dweller, if you vote for the guy who builds up your party or pays out most, he'll need to recoup that outlay or party line up. Secondly, CDFs seem to have elicited more involvement by constituents in their affairs and this level of involvement will need to be there for county governance to work. Finally, the foundations and the future of your county will be laid by the first county government in 2012. Electing the right leaders; having succinct katiba provisions for counties and central govt involvement (via annual audits) will ensure that strong county institutions are in place to ameliorate politics.

In short, County governance is here to stay. If it can build on the positive aspects of the CDF experience, it'll take Kenya places.


Henry said...

This is a good simple article to get people thinking correctly about the bigger issues in County governments. I would only like to add or clarify that where you say "planning can make a difference" I believe you are shortchanging the most important element in the process. Good planning, and not just economic, but spatial planning too will ensure successful counties.

MainaT said...

Agree Henry. On spatial planning, i was shocked when I spoke to a city engineer who told me Nai doesn't have a planning map... said...

Symon Meyo:
Simple but quite informative. Such scripts should be adopted by the electoral board - IIEC/IECB as advocacy to help ordinary Kenyans to understand how important it is to elect quality leadership.