The intention behind devolution is noble – to bring both government and services closer to the people. However the implementation of the devolved governance system is more than a bit clunky. Since its inception devolution has seen turf wars – between the Senate and Governors, between Governors and the National Assembly, between the National Assembly and Senators, and at times all three simultaneously. Issues of role clarity and hierarchy are especially apparent in the most recent power struggle between senators and governors.
According to the constitution the Senate’s role is to consider laws that affect county matters and help determine the allocation of national revenue to the county administrations (Article 96 (3), and to basically represent the interests of the devolved governments at national level (Article 96). Governors lead the county assemblies running the counties, exercising oversight over the county executive committee and other county organs (Article 185).
While the constitution gives a broad framework for governance under devolution it offers little clarity on the specific role either the Senate or the Governors or on the hierarchical relationship between the two, the County Governments Act is equally vague on this issue.
The fact that two clauses can have two differing interpretations continues to manifest in strange and interesting ways. Some of these ways more innocuous than others i.e. whether or not Governors should be addressed as ‘your Excellency’ or should be allowed to fly the national flag on their vehicles, versus questions of what the exactly the Senate’s mandate of oversight over national revenue allocated to counties entails, and this is probably here where the real contention lies.
Of the three wings of the devolved government i.e. Senators, Governors, and Members of the National Assembly only two control budgets. The members of the National Assembly control CDF budget whose total budget runs into tens of billions of shillings (more recently the MPs have wanted the CDF allocation increased from 21 billion shillings to 35 billion shillings). Counties also receive hundreds of billions of shillings of over which governors exert significant control, leaving senators as the only seat with no specific budget to draw from.
Yet money is a significant factor in interaction between state officers and citizens, and definitely a significant in election and re-election of state officers. So it is of little surprise that the most contentious turf wars between the different the state officials revolves involves control or oversight of revenue.
In order to establish this control it seems several layers not originally envisioned in the constitution have been added to the devolution structure i.e. county commissioners and more recently County Development Boards chaired by the local Senator who is required to “approve” all development plans and budgets before they are presented to the County Assemblies, effectively shifting control of county funds from the hands of governors to the hands of Senators
As the supremacy battles rage on between the Senators, Governors and MPs the biggest losers remain the Kenyans for whom devolution was intended.