By Dikembe Disembe
A report by the World Bank lists a few counties as having passed the 30% threshold for public spending on ‘development’ projects and claims, quite falsely, that counties that spent more money on salaries and other ‘non-development’ expenditures are going against the aim of devolution which was to improve services to the people.
But the people are not roads.
The above statement may look silly, even stupid, until you think deeply about it.
Kenyan counties are unique when it comes to disparities which existed amongst them before devolution. For example, across Nyanza counties, the main ‘economic activity’, and on which the region’s development is hinged on, is education.
How many employed parents in the four counties of Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori are able to improve this ‘development’ factor by taking their kids to schools, colleges and universities?
While the World Bank approach is to look at development through infrastructural lenses, which isn’t a bad thing, devolution, beyond just bringing resources into counties, also provided people with the power to determine what development areas are of utmost importance to them.
In Migori County, for example, the governor has set aside millions of shillings in high school, college and university scholarships. Also, the county government, in a massive employment drive, has put on its payroll thousands of people who initially had no source of income at all despite being productive in terms of human skills.
Migori, for the first time, has been able to complete the construction of a tarmac road in the constituency which has been elusive for decades of self rule. A medical training college has been erected, each sub-county has ambulances and drugs are trickling to the village level.
It would be naive, really, to peg development on these new initiatives without looking at the human resource added to the mix, for a new hospital will require additional human personnel with increment of patients.
My misgivings in the released report however shouldn’t be mistaken to be a blanket vote of confidence in how counties have managed their resources. Wastages are real, theft and corruption exist, and more must be done to ensure every penny is used to alleviate the situation of Kenyans at county level.
The aim of devolution, in my view, should not just be viewed through a financialized capitalism lense. There are several indices and factors to be put into consideration.