BY ELIUD OWALO
This year, Kenyans will be watching to see what their Governors will do to conciliate the expectations of the local electorate. Indeed, the 2017 – 2022 regime of Governors face higher expectations from Kenyans – if the way the former crop of Governors were criticized for poor service delivery is anything to go by. This, as we all know, culminated in many of them being overwhelmingly voted out by an angry electorate. From a macro-level perspective, what happens in the Counties in 2018 is crucial because successful implementation of the third Medium Term Plan (2018-2022) of the Kenya Vision 2030 requires collaboration with and active participation by the County Governments.
The National Government has already pronounced that it will focus its development Agenda on four main areas, namely; growing the manufacturing sector; expanding access to universal health coverage; providing affordable and decent housing; and enhancing food and nutrition security. In all these thematic areas, the County Governments have a role to play – and especially in the area of health which is now a largely devolved function. The Counties are also critical in the realm of food and nutrition security. For this reason, a positive intergovernmental relation (in 2018 and beyond) between both levels of Government is crucial to the success of not only devolution but also the national development agenda.
It therefore becomes imperative to undertake an End-Term evaluation to determine the extent of implementation of the 1st Cycle County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) and address the challenges that have bedeviled devolution since 2013 so that the strategic issues emanating therefrom are addressed moving into the future. The Challenges faced together with the lessons learnt and performance gaps witnessed should subsequently inform the development of the 2nd Cycle CIDPs covering the 2018-2022 period. One of the key challenges encountered by the Counties so far has been the weak governance framework and inadequate operational capacity, which has had detrimental effects in most of the County Governments with the major one being inability to absorb and optimally utilize the allocated and disbursed budgetary provisions.
On one hand, reports from the Controller of Budget and National Treasury advance the argument that most Counties have perennially underutilized their budgetary resources, yet on the other hand there is the argument by the County Governments blaming the National Treasury for limited funding or delayed release of the funds. But undoubtedly, other challenges facing Counties like low performance of own-source revenue, poor quality of County policies and laws, and poor service delivery can all be attributed to a large extent, to the weak technical and institutional capacity in most of the Counties.
Capacity building of the Counties therefore becomes a key area that needs attention of the Governors in 2018. It should also be an area of interest and focus for complimentary support by the National Government, for obvious reasons. First, improved capacity at County level will enhance the policy, planning, budgeting and program execution continuum at the County level. This would not only improve absorption of development funds, but also enable the Counties to conform to the fiscal responsibility principles spelt out in the Constitution and the Public Finance management Act, 2012 to ensure that at least 30 percent of their budgetary allocations go into development and not more than 35 percent goes into salaries. Capacity building would also improve the quality of the County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) which are the core policy blueprints that guide development at County level. Better quality CIDPs would translate to more effective functional Strategic Plans and Annual Work Plans which guide the day to day operations of the County Government Departments, hence better service delivery.
Also central is the fact that better human resource capacity will lead to improved County policies and laws, hence better utilization of local resources and improved service delivery. Furthermore, addressing the capacity challenges at County level will not only strengthen accountability and fiscal discipline but also enhance own-source revenue collection and management as well as improved management of assets.
What then are the opportunities abound for County Government in terms of capacity building that they need to exploit?. First is to appreciate that there is a mix of public servants in the Counties. The first category is the public servants who were inherited from the National Government and relatively have some good level of skills and understanding of Government operations. However, they still need to be capacity-enhanced to adopt the best practices for County Governments. The other category of staff is those who were employed by the County Governments upon inception in 2013 mainly to reward political supporters. We know as a fact that most of these were largely employed based on County regional dynamics, clannism, nepotism and other non-professional considerations. They therefore require greater training support than the aforementioned one.
Considering the responsibilities of County Governments, capacity building programs need to be tailor-made to address specific capacity gaps identified through formal capacity needs assessment. However, there are some cross-cutting capacity building areas that would be applicable to all Counties. These include: Training Needs Assessment(TNA);approaches to public engagement in policy and budgeting processes; County profiles and their application in county planning; the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) budgeting process; Organizational Design; Strategic Planning; performance management; Job Evaluation; Staff Rationalization; Management of Strategic Change; Proposal and Report Writing; Resource Mobilization; Project Management; Monitoring,Evaluation and Reporting; the Labour Laws; Legislative Drafting;Internal-Auditing;and cross-cutting issues such as gender, HIV/AIDS and disability mainstreaming; among others.
Most significantly, the Counties need to undertake demand-driven training programmes based on the Mandate and Core Business of the County Governments that is adequately informed by their respective areas of comparative advantage as opposed to supply-driven training programmes based on personal staff desire. In effect, the Counties should undertake staff development programmes arising from a comprehensive Training Needs Assessment (TNA) that is effectively-aligned to the County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) and the corresponding functional Strategic Plans. The County Governments should also undertake periodic Training-Impact assessment to justify the funds utilized on training during the preceding activity period so that any future training is purely informed by value-proposition.
The writer is a Management Consultant