Governors are up in arms that Ruto is paying lip service to his devolution promises, and particularly miffed by the County Governments Bill, 2023
By NLM Writer
The recent statement by the Council of Governors (CoG) warning of an imminent collapse of the devolved units for lack of Exchequer disbursements presents unprecedented political challenges for President William Ruto’s administration.
This warning by CoG muddied the political waters for the Kenya Kwanza administration, which has heightened the blame game since assuming office, accusing the former Jubilee administration of everything that is going wrong economically.
With the problems facing devolution mounting by the day, the spirit of creating the devolved units is facing uncertain times after the first 10 years when counties did just the bare minimum because of inadequate allocations by the national government and below average own revenue collections.
This experiment, born out of years of frustration with the centralised system that marginalised regions based on political affiliation, is now on an uphill climb, with the car looking more likely to reverse and land on a ditch rather than steady the climb to a brighter future at the local level.
For the president, it presents a proper headache: the delay in disbursing the KSh94.35 billion to counties looks like a deliberate move by the national government to cripple the counties; this would mean that Kenya Kwanza administration is out to undermine devolution and amass more powers at the national level.
In their statement, the governors said as much. “This is a sad day for the Council of Governors and county governments. We have just concluded a full Council Meeting wherein critical issues of common interest to County Governments were discussed as we realize that devolution is under threat from the National Government,” said Anne Waiguru, the CoG Chairperson.
The governors threatened to shut down counties if February, March, and April arrears were not released within two weeks, which notice period expires on May 8, 2023.
“We also notify the citizens of Kenya that due to the failure of the National Treasury to disburse the funds, County Governments will not be able to deliver services as expected,” the governors added.
During the campaigns ahead of the August 9 General Election, then-presidential candidate Ruto had made many lofty promises. Regarding the devolved units, then-candidate Ruto had promised to enable the counties to deliver on their mandates through timely disbursements.
“Ensure that shareable revenue is transferred to counties in a timely and predictable manner and in accordance with the law,” states the Kenya Kwanza manifesto, dubbed The Plan, on strengthening devolution.
The other key promises in The Plan were to “complete transfer of all functions constitutionally earmarked to counties within six months,” “Improve county governments’ capacity to generate their own income and reduce their over-reliance on transfers from the national government,” and “transfer funds owed to the beneficiary counties and communities under the Mining Act 2016 and the Petroleum Act 2019 within six months, and work with county governments to increase the capacity of the communities to benefit from extractive resources.”
As late as February this year, the president committed to timely disbursement of funds to county governments.
“There is evident transformation that has come about through devolution, and as such, we must support counties,” he said during the 9th National and County Coordinating Summit in Naivasha, Nakuru County.
So far, none of these critical promises made regarding strengthening devolution have been implemented, or else governors would not be up in arms.
Instead, the administration is going back on its promise to the devolved units. The administration has been loudly quiet about the “complete transfer of all functions constitutionally earmarked to counties” more than six months after it assumed office.
There has been no evidence, at least publicly, of transfers of funds owed to the beneficiary counties and communities under the Mining Act 2016 and the Petroleum Act 2019. This, too, was to be done within six months of the Kenya Kwanza ascending to power, which would have been done by March of this year.
Similarly, there has yet to be tangible evidence of the national government improving the capacity of counties to enhance local revenue collection. Instead, governors have raised concerns over the proposed County Governments (Revenue Raising Process) Bill, 2023. They say the bill is an “ attempt by the National Government to claw back on Devolution by seeking to micromanage County Governments mandates on revenue collection as prescribed under Article 209(4) of the Constitution.”
“There is no reason why County Governments should submit new tax particulars to the National Treasury and CRA. Chapter 12 of the COK (Constitution of Kenya) gives the two levels of distinct government mandates on the revenue-raising capabilities,” Ms Waiguru said.
“Therefore, the bill before parliament is unconstitutional. Counties are not subservient to the national government. It should never be mandatory for counties to submit a list of all taxes, fees, and levies to the Cabinet Secretary National Treasury,” she added on behalf of the 47 devolved governments.
Because of the delayed disbursements totaling more than KSh94 billion, county governments now find themselves crippled and at the mercy of their employees, who have gone for months without pay.
“The four-month delay is unprecedented in the history of devolution and negates the spirit of the meeting held in Naivasha between His Excellency The President and the Governors,” the CoG chairperson said in reference to the president’s promises during the 9th National and County Coordinating Summit.
At the same time, the Senate, which is majority-led by Kenya Kwanza, voted to reject a proposal to increase the equitable share in the FY 2023/24 for counties to KSh407 billion. Instead, the Senate passed the Division of Revenue Bill, 2023, with KSh385 billion for counties. Twenty-two Kenya Kwanza senators voted against the proposed amendment to give counties KSh407 billion, effectively meaning the president’s side is the one that refused to give counties more resources against Mr Ruto’s campaign promises of more money to the devolved units.
“This is a new low for a House of Parliament constitutionally mandated to represent the Counties and serve to protect devolution. We note with concern that in the history of devolution, the Senate has never voted against the spirit of devolution in as far as the increase of resources is concerned. We call upon the Senate to uphold their primary mandate that county governments are well-resourced to perform their functions optimally,” the governors lamented.
It is a realisation by the governors that the administration that made juicy promises to them is no longer with them, and it could be back to basics for the devolved units.
For President Ruto, the second headache is that the CoG statement did not dichotomise the governors into Kenya Kwanza and Azimio camps. Had it been that only one side of the political divide, especially the Azimio side, it would have been easy for the president and his loyalists to dismiss them.
For now, the president has to deal with all the 47 governors, including those from his party, who already are questioning if his administration is only giving lip service to devolution.
The four-month delay, Ms Waiguru noted, “negates the spirit” of the meeting and commitments the president has made to the governors over the disbursement of funds.
The feeling of the Kenya Kwanza giving lip service to devolution is further reinforced by the failure of the president to create a devolution ministry, unlike his predecessor President Uhuru Kenyatta who, for the 10 years he was in power, had one through which counties could directly relate with the national government. (