Effective county governance key to quality service delivery

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BY NDUNG’U WAINAINA

In the April issue, this column reviewed and captured in detail the critical essence of creating an appropriate devolved governance and development policy framework, outlining the role of county governments in effective public and social services delivery and management at the local level.

The future of a democratic, prosperous, cohesive and healthier Kenya is found in building effective inclusive and accountable county governance structures. The national centralised system is a spectacular failure. Kenyans shred it in promulgating constitution. Courts have continuously made this point.

According to the Supreme Court of Kenya, “Devolution is a core promise of the Constitution of Kenya 2010”. It has reconfigured the spirit of civic enterprise for the 21st Century in Kenya.  Democratic county governments are the galvanising force for building a more productive, competitive economy and ensuring better public services. It is game-changer in politics, governance, service delivery and inclusive sustainable economic development.

Local ethical and accountable leadership is pivotal for stronger governance, sustained efficacy, improved efficiency and responsible financial management.

County governments occupy a unique space in public life, emphasising the importance of its role and capacity to add value as a community leader. They form the lead engine and have the responsibility of setting the vision for the counties and working with partners and communities to deliver what matters most to people.

By investing correctly their functional powers and resources, county governments can serve people better, reduce inequalities and facilitate the attainment of the country’s progress ambitions. County governments need to become increasingly innovative and effective at producing good quality services and value for the taxpayer. They need to look ahead positively. The cumulative impact of policy change on county governments should have a huge impact on the lives of local populations.

It is crucial to ensure the devolved institutions function effectively. It is also important to have wider civic engagement about how to improve county governance. Deep-reaching devolution must happen, giving local people much more say and control over spending and investment in their counties to promote growth, job creation, stronger communities and prosperity for all.

For this to happen, the country needs a top leadership that is truly committed to devolution. Devolved powers to counties have already created a big difference despite the momentous challenges. County governments are closer to the communities they serve. They are better placed to deliver and address local needs effectively.

County government do not exist simply to provide services. They have to facilitate meaningful participation of the local population to participate in designing pro-people policies and ensuring quality of services delivered. Kenyans want to ensure a proper relationship between those who provide a service and those who rely on it through stronger local democracy, more effective scrutiny, and proper channels to hold those responsible for services delivery to account.

Kenyans have suffered for the last 50 years under an unaccountable, bureaucratic, opaque and centralised national government. In voting for the progressive constitution and devolution, they sent a strong message: they want(ed) well-run county governments, which operate transparently, and openly, which plan effectively, which use the resources available to them to best effect, and which work collaboratively and in partnership with others whenever this will benefit the people they serve. And Kenyans want people themselves to have a stronger voice, and more influence over how services are designed and delivered. To deliver this, county governments will need to continually assess and improve their own performance and set stringent monitoring mechanisms.

A closer relationship between county governments and local communities is vital. It will strengthen governance and make it clear how decisions are made, and who makes them. It will help local representatives provide effective oversight and scrutiny. It will encourage innovation and the sharing of best practices to drive excellent performance and services, which meet people’s needs.

The future role of the county government needs to be about collaboration based on an understanding of local needs and clear governance structures, not just the current emphasis on service provision. And they can only achieve this through partnerships, working between sectors. Now is the time for county governments to seize the opportunity to shape their own and country’s future by working for more equal, prosperous, innovative, and healthier people living in safe, cohesive and resilient communities, who have a wide range of opportunities.

Once county governance institutions are created, strengthening and building their capacities is critical. It is imperative that national government agencies are restructured, reformed and reorganised to reflect this reality to remove duplication of functions, wastage of resources and unhealthy conflicts. It is a crucial moment to support the building of effective, responsive, democratic local governance systems, institutions and processes that work for the local population needs, choices and circumstances.

Pertinent
As the country enters into the final phase of the first five years since the rolling out of the devolution, some critical issues need to be addressed. First, devolution/county blueprints must be developed on the basis of informed functional assignments, quality service delivery, cost-effectiveness, administrative framework and personnel needs.

Second, provision must be made for both planning and monitoring evaluation frameworks, making clear which institution is responsible for planning at various levels, information-generation, involvement of citizens, and how to insulate planning from political manipulation.

Third, we must fundamentally reform and change national state corporations/parastatals, which control huge amounts of money in the execution of devolved functions. Creating and maintaining a detailed register of county assets, and property and wealth resources, is mandatory.

Fourth, we must review and rethink fiscal, taxation and economic policies, including changing the Vision 2030 to reflect constitutional dispensation and realities to ensure counties have financial stability and sustainability.

Fifth, restructuring and phasing out the costly colonial legacy of provincial administration and attendant national government bureaucracies at the counties is a must. This will also facilitate a comprehensive audit of county personnel needs. Cooperation and coordination between national and county governments should happen on a clear, functional sectorial basis.  A well-qualified, competitively recruited officer could be assigned the role of cooperation but with a clear mandate that respects the principles of distinctiveness, subsidiary and oversight between the different levels of government. The officer should not sit below the county government.

Sixth, we must distinguish and specify the roles, mandate and independence of county institutions. Counties need a strong independent public service, one able to enforce the accountability, performance and integrity provisions spelt out by the constitution towards the realisation of the aspirations of Kenyans, in the spirit of effective service delivery.

The seventh requires setting and providing for effective administrative discipline and monitoring of public service performance and delivery. The measures need to provide for continuous evaluation of all public officer and their institutions.

Eight involves the rationalisation and standardisation of salaries and allowances so that only those willing to serve their counties apply for appropriate positions. A policy strictly regulating travel and entertainment allowances is necessary. The issue of overstaffing must be sincerely addressed to avoid retaining unsuitably qualified staff in mismatched positions and creating inherent human resource inefficiencies.

Kenyans realised that a devolved administration is more than a necessity. It is a way of involving people in the management of common local concerns for public good. Devolution of responsibility and powers presupposes the devolution of adequate financial resources. Consequently, the country has to turn its attention towards establishing strong and viable local governance systems to ensure the dispersion of political power and authority essential to the maintenance of democratic governance, and  economic security.

It is significant to state that not just issues of democracy are driving the worldwide movement toward effective local devolution and civic participation; economic factors are clearly an important part of this development. Increasingly, it is being realised that the existence of viable, effective county governance is an important contributing factor to rapid economic development.

One very basic indication of this is seen by comparing the level of economic development of a country and the percentage of government funds and employment occurring at the sub-national level. Better developed countries economically spend between 40 and 60 per cent of all government expenditure at sub-national level, and over 50 per cent of their public sector employment is at the sub-national level.

Government’s capacity to provide effective public and social services is largely a function of its capacity to raise new revenue and utilise it effectively and equitably. While in the past not a great deal of attention has been paid to the role of local government in building a strong economic base for the country, this has changed.

Enlightened policy-makers have come to realise that effective local governance is critical for inclusive economic growth. In part, this shift in emphasis is due to a growing realisation of the failure of central planning and the lack of economic success associated with highly centralised governments.

It is also due to a growing understanding of the importance of local government in terms of the shaping of successful, inclusive local economic development that pay special attention to local preferences and choices.

Inclusive economic growth requires creative entrepreneurs, a skilled labour pool, an adequate infrastructure (roads, water, sanitary facilities, etc) and, of special importance, an appropriate facilitating regulatory environment (laws, regulations, the availability of affordable cheap credit and forms of technical assistance).

It is not surprising that among established democracies and countries making the transition to democracy, those that have invested most heavily in the building of strong local governance structures have been the most productive economically.

A country like Sweden, recognising a decade ago that its economy was beginning to stagnate, took major steps to streamline and downsize its national government. It significantly strengthened and enhanced both its local government and private sectors. The result has been a dramatic improvement in productivity and the economic wellbeing of its people.

One very important reason for this increase in economic productivity is that county governments, as they emerge as serious actors, normally work very effectively to create an environment that is supportive of small business development at the local level. In contrast, national government tend be preoccupied with large-scale national and multinational projects and corporate development.

People-centred development
Effective local governments have the knowledge and the inclination to pay attention to the needs of small-scale investments that have direct impact on local populations. This is very important since, in the new economy, small enterprises are becoming a critically important generator of new jobs.

The practice of good local governance, which involves not only the institutions of government but civil society and the private sector as well, is increasingly being regarded as a necessary condition for people-centred development, which provides people with equal choices and extensive access to services and opportunities.

There is, therefore, increased acknowledgement of the importance of authentic local governance that enables people to participate more directly in governance processes and helps to empower them. More imagination and innovation are needed in local governance to successfully meet the challenge of providing citizens everywhere with a better life in the 21st century.

Although a large number of developing and developed countries are engaged in devolution processes, and many have created policies for increased participation of people, experience shows that these processes do not always benefit the poor and do not always protect the interests of the local population.

The real challenge, therefore, is how to create an enabling environment at the national level that would facilitate a genuine devolution of power and resources to county governments, strengthening their capacity to work in the interest of the local population, deliver necessary services in an equitable manner and help expand people’s opportunities and choices.

Successful devolution needs to give scope and resources for the contributions to development by civil society actors. Important is also an environment where the systems for national and county governance are complementary and mutually supportive.
In conclusion, the building of the basic institutions, systems and procedures of effective local government remain a crucial factor in determining the nature and quality of the services that county governments deliver.

The  nature, quality and equitable distribution of the services which citizens receive from their county governments as well as  the development of public-private partnerships to enhance service delivery is both significant and appropriate because it shows a deliberate effort to build effective, relevant local governments. In the end of the spectrum, the popular support for effective county governance will depend on the responsiveness, value and utility of the services that are provided to the citizenry.

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