10 Crucial Policy Proposals Emerging from a Decade of Devolution

Articles & Insights

August 18, 2023

Hon Raila Amollo Odinga_Devolution_Conference_2023

Muliru Yoni

The Devolution Conference of 2023 featured a noteworthy keynote address delivered by the esteemed former Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga. Commencing with expressions of delight and enthusiasm, he celebrated the remarkable decade-long journey since the implementation of devolution in Kenya. Notably, his speech was punctuated by thought-provoking parables, with the metaphor “Nyani Haoni Kundule” (The Baboon does not see his bottoms) serving as the cornerstone. This allegorical foundation facilitated a comprehensive exploration of pivotal concerns spanning citizenry, devolution dynamics, and the broader national landscape. Embedded within this discourse were salient policy imperatives, the synthesis of which is detailed herein, along with considerations of their implications for both domestic and international realms:

Policy Recommendation 1:Divisive and Toxic Party Politics

In his insightful address, Hon. Odinga aptly recognized the detrimental influence of toxic and divisive political maneuvers on both the broader development trajectory and the specific devolution process. This discernment underscores the imperative to encourage a shift away from such practices, particularly among governors who are central figures in the devolution mechanism. It is noteworthy that this call is made indirectly, yet its significance is undeniable. To ensure the holistic and unimpeded development of local communities, he conferred to the governors to eschew partisan politics that often hinder effective service delivery. Instead, the focus should align resolutely with the imperative of addressing the genuine needs of the Kenyan populace at the grassroots level. By fostering a political environment marked by cooperation, constructive dialogue, and the prioritization of citizen welfare, governors can play a pivotal role in realizing the true potential of devolution. This recommendation reinforces the essence of devolution as a tool for inclusive and comprehensive development, urging governors to champion a people-centric approach over narrow political agendas.

Policy Recommendation 2: Balanced Assessment of Local Progress under Devolution

The speech by Hon. Odinga commendably illuminated the positive strides witnessed at the grassroots level, attributing the emergence of a burgeoning middle class to the transformative power of devolution. This celebration of successes serves as an inspiring foundation, showcasing the tangible benefits devolution has brought to local communities. However, a comprehensive evaluation of a decade of devolution entails acknowledging both achievements and setbacks. While spotlighting accomplishments is crucial, it is equally imperative to address the challenges that have emerged along this transformative journey. The discourse surrounding the ten-year milestone should encompass an honest examination of the issues that warrant attention, including the issue of a substantial wage bill and the realization of unfulfilled promises. This balanced perspective is essential not only for accountability but also for charting a path toward further growth and improvement. By understanding both the achievements and the challenges, policymakers can refine strategies to optimize the benefits of devolution. Thus, a holistic appraisal of local progress, encompassing achievements, challenges, and potential remedies, is a pivotal recommendation that aligns with the principles of transparency and responsible governance.

Policy Recommendation 3: Ensuring Synergy Between Devolution and National Governance

Addressing a critical aspect, Hon. Odinga drew attention to the interplay between devolution’s successes and the broader national landscape. He underscored that the efficacy of devolution hinges upon the alignment and commitment of the national government to its ideals. This connection is pivotal: if the national government does not fully embrace devolution and integrate its principles, the nation might encounter dual losses—both in the context of devolution and at the national level. For a successful devolution model to flourish, it is imperative that those at the national level embrace and internalize its principles. This entails not only transferring responsibilities to devolved units but also ensuring that the national government remains steadfast in providing essential services to citizens. Failure to achieve this alignment risks diluting the potential of devolution and undermining its core goals. Hon. Odinga’s assertion underscores that devolution, with its localized approach, offers a robust platform for efficient service delivery and societal progress. However, skepticism remains, with some doubting whether similar outcomes could be achieved through a centralized, national governance approach. Thus, this recommendation advocates for a cohesive approach that combines the benefits of devolution and the effective functions of the national government, ensuring a symbiotic relationship that maximizes citizen welfare and the nation’s advancement.

Policy Recommendation 4: Streamlining Devolution Funding Mechanisms for Effective Implementation

A significant challenge in the devolution journey lies in the realm of funding and financial management. This concern was vividly underscored by Hon. Odinga, who highlighted the intricate relationship between the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) and the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK). Over time, the complexity of this dynamic has been further compounded by a myriad of factors, including differing interpretations of the law, competing interests among stakeholders, and the political landscape. A focal point of this challenge lies in the allocation of funds for devolution, where the Commission on Revenue Allocation plays a pivotal role. However, this process is subject to deliberation within the houses of parliament, introducing an element of complexity that can hinder swift and effective disbursements. Moreover, a notable concern pertains to the accuracy and timeliness of government books of account, which form the basis for revenue determination and subsequent disbursement.

In light of these intricacies, the policy recommendation advocates for a holistic overhaul of the funding ecosystem associated with devolution. A comprehensive approach—one that addresses not only legal interpretations but also aligns funding mechanisms with contemporary financial practices—is essential. This approach should encompass transparent financial reporting, streamlined allocation procedures, and a clear framework for decision-making involving all stakeholders. By simplifying the funding process and ensuring up-to-date financial records, the nation can enhance the efficacy of devolution implementation and optimize the allocation of resources for the benefit of local communities.

Policy Recommendation 5: Balancing County Needs, Remuneration, and Fiscal Responsibility

In the discourse of devolution, addressing the pressing needs of counties while maintaining fiscal prudence is of paramount importance. The elevation of county assembly members (MCAs) and their remuneration requirements stand as vital concerns. It is undeniable that these needs are genuine and require attention; however, a nuanced and balanced approach is required. A recommendation put forth is that the pursuit of fiscal responsibility should initiate not only at the national level but also at the county level. While recent pronouncements by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) indicate intentions to raise salaries, a move that invites scrutiny within the context of the nation’s economic challenges. The question raised, particularly amidst a backdrop of citizen struggles, is whether such salary advances are prudent.

Confronting this concern requires a comprehensive evaluation that transcends immediate considerations. Such an assessment should encompass the nation’s overall fiscal health, the effectiveness of resource allocation, and a meticulous examination of the wider societal and economic consequences. It is this recommendation’s emphasis that a balance is sought—one that acknowledges the legitimate aspirations of county assembly members, while simultaneously adhering to a responsible fiscal stance that takes into account the collective difficulties encountered by the nation’s populace.

In essence, this policy recommendation encourages a prudent and balanced approach, advocating for fiscal responsibility that is equally shared between local and national levels. It underscores the importance of addressing the financial challenges collectively, ensuring equitable distribution of resources, and fostering a fiscal environment that nurtures both county needs and national welfare.

Policy Recommendation 6: Optimizing Human Resource Allocation in Devolution

The concern raised by Hon Raila Amollo Odinga regarding the surge in the wage bill underscores a critical challenge—the duplication of human resources within the devolution framework. This is particularly evident in sectors like Health, Water, and Agriculture, where many devolved services still rely on national-level funding. An example highlighting the complexity of the issue is the hierarchical structure of service delivery in the Health sector. The act outlines six distinct levels of service delivery, yet only level six falls under the jurisdiction of the national government. The oversight in proper analysis and division of functions during the transition to devolution becomes apparent. In light of this, a decisive action is warranted. The identification of this challenge serves as a resounding call for the national government, through the intergovernmental technical committee, to conduct a thorough reevaluation of its national strategies and human resource allocation. This reevaluation should encompass a comprehensive review of the functions that remain at the national level and those effectively devolved to the counties.

This policy recommendation underscores the urgency of redefining the delineation of responsibilities and resources between national and county levels. It advocates for a collaborative effort to optimize resource allocation, minimize redundancy, and ensure that human resources are effectively aligned with the services being devolved. By addressing this challenge, Kenya’s devolution process can operate more efficiently, delivering better services to citizens while curbing unnecessary financial burdens.

Policy Recommendation 7: Fiscally Responsible Approach to Wage Bill Reduction in the Devolution Context

The urgent call to action by Hon Raila Amollo Odinga to address the escalating wage bill within the framework of devolution underscores a pressing concern. This comes at a time when members of parliament are yet to discuss a bill that proposes to raise the counties from 47 to 56. It prompts a comprehensive strategy that demands careful engagement and reduction of this financial burden. However, the effectiveness of this strategy relies on a well-structured plan of action. This policy recommendation advocates for a methodical approach to wage bill reduction, initiated in two stages: starting with the national government and then cascading down to the county governments. This staged approach acknowledges the central role of the national government as the largest employer and sets a precedent for responsible fiscal management.

A notable concern arises from the absence of a comprehensive audit by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to align roles within devolved functions with ongoing wage bill discussions and county expectations. Therefore, this recommendation proposes an additional layer of engagement. It suggests that forthcoming Bi-partisan discussions consider integrating these challenging conversations concerning the wage bill at both the national and county levels. By pursuing this well-structured course of action, Kenya can not only address the growing wage bill but also ensure equitable and efficient allocation of resources. This approach, grounded in fiscal responsibility, strives to strike a balance between fulfilling the needs of the workforce and safeguarding the nation’s financial stability within the context of devolution.

Policy Recommendation 8: Strengthening Monitoring Mechanisms for Effective Devolution

The call for effective monitoring of devolution, as highlighted by Hon Raila Amollo Odinga, serves as a cornerstone for ensuring the success of this critical governance model. His emphasis on addressing challenges arising from man-made activities underscores the need for a robust framework that oversees the implementation of devolution laws and ensures the realization of its goals. This policy recommendation underscores the importance of a comprehensive monitoring mechanism that goes beyond mere oversight. It is essential that such a mechanism is anchored in the existing governance structure of devolution, which relies on three fundamental pillars: capacity, commitment from the national government, and guidance from the 2010 constitution.

Devolution’s efficacy hinges on adherence to principles beyond the scope of Chapter 6, which addresses leadership and integrity. Fiscal discipline and the prevention of role duplication stand out as key foundations for successful devolution. Therefore, it is paramount to imbue the implementation process with these principles, as they play a pivotal role in steering devolution toward its desired outcomes. By adopting this approach, Kenya can establish a solid foundation for the monitoring of devolution’s progress and the timely identification of man-made problems, as highlighted by Hon Odinga. This recommendation envisions a system that not only holds devolved units accountable but also empowers them with the means to deliver essential services to citizens while fostering a culture of efficiency and transparency. 

Policy Recommendation 9: Strengthening Legal Frameworks for Effective Devolution

The call for a comprehensive review of legal frameworks surrounding devolution, as articulated by Hon Raila Amollo Odinga, is a pivotal step in ensuring the alignment of policies and legislation with the evolving governance landscape. This recommendation emphasizes the need to bridge gaps between older legislation and the new constitutional order, thereby bolstering the effectiveness of devolution. A holistic review should encompass not only laws enacted prior to the promulgation of the constitution but also those introduced afterward. These laws must be scrutinized for alignment with both the constitution and the principles of devolution. As exemplified by the Commission of Revenue Act, instances of inconsistency between legal definitions and constitutional standards must be addressed to eliminate potential legal conflicts and ensure a harmonious operational environment.

Moreover, the policy recommendation underscores the necessity to overhaul the Public Finance Management Act within the treasury. The Act’s existing oversight of critical offices—such as Parliament, Revenue Allocation Commission, Controller of Budget, Auditor General, and Central Bank—must be examined in light of their significance to the devolution process. Currently, the role and responsibilities of the National Treasury remain ambiguous in the context of devolution, as stipulated by Article 225 of the Constitution. To enhance the coherence and efficacy of legal frameworks, this policy proposal advocates for the establishment of an independent National Treasury. This redefined state organ should not only serve the National Government but also cater to the needs of County Governments, aligning with the principles and mandates of devolution. By reconfiguring the Public Finance Management Act to reflect this renewed perspective, Kenya can achieve a more harmonized and streamlined legal framework that supports the successful implementation of devolution.

Policy Recommendation 10: Balancing Foreign Relations: Navigating Political Voices on the International Stage

The remarks made by Hon Raila Amollo Odinga regarding a diplomatic incident involving a U.S. Ambassador underscore the intricate interplay between domestic politics and foreign relations. This recommendation highlights the significance of understanding how political figures’ opinions can shape a nation’s foreign policy trajectory. It is acknowledged that politicians, including leaders like Hon Odinga, possess their own perspectives on matters of national and international importance. Their opinions reflect a complex web of beliefs, interests, and motivations that can significantly influence the stance a nation takes on the global stage. While such statements can be viewed as asserting national sovereignty, they also necessitate careful consideration of the potential ramifications on diplomatic ties and international partnerships.

This policy recommendation urges a comprehensive examination of the current regime’s foreign policy framework. Understanding the structural underpinnings and inclinations of the ruling government is pivotal in grasping its approach to international affairs. The dynamics of power, policy alignment, and diplomatic goals should be evaluated to gain insights into how a particular administration navigates global challenges and opportunities. Moreover, this policy proposal encourages the analysis of the constraining role that opposition leaders can play in shaping foreign policy decisions. While leaders in opposition may not have direct decision-making authority, their influence on public opinion and their ability to rally domestic support can impact a government’s latitude in pursuing certain foreign policy initiatives. Balancing the perspectives of both ruling and opposition leaders can lead to a more inclusive and nuanced foreign policy approach that aligns with national interests while upholding diplomatic engagement. This policy recommendation emphasizes the importance of understanding the motivations and implications of political voices in shaping foreign relations. By examining the structural tendencies of the ruling regime, assessing the influence of opposition leaders, and promoting a holistic approach to foreign policy, Kenya can effectively navigate the international arena while maintaining a balanced and informed stance.

In conclusion, the metaphorical insights shared by Hon Raila Amollo Odinga in his speech at the Devolution Conference underscore the wealth of wisdom that can be gained from such symbolic expressions. Yet, a conspicuous point emerges – the imperative to bolster education and awareness at the national level and empower local administrations with the necessary capacities to fully appreciate the significance of devolution. The need for an increased emphasis on education is undeniable. There exists an urgent requirement to educate individuals at the national level about the fundamental principles and benefits of devolution. This educational endeavor is crucial for fostering a shared understanding of the rationale behind devolved governance, its positive implications, and its potential to drive national progress.

Furthermore, it is evident that even within the echelons of the national government, misconceptions about devolution persist. To address this, a comprehensive induction program is recommended, one that transcends basic government management and  accounting knowledge currently offered by institutions like the Kenya School of Government (KSG). This induction should encompass in-depth insights into the intricacies of devolution, its functions, intricacies, and the role it plays in fostering equitable development. The metaphorical narrative of Hon Odinga’s speech imparts valuable lessons. Yet, it is the clarion call for enhanced education at the national level and targeted capacity-building efforts within county administrations that resonates as the cornerstone for ensuring a thriving devolution system. This education-driven approach will pave the way for a more enlightened and empowered Kenya, embracing the true essence of devolution for the betterment of all. 

Find the link to the full speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5oaIsRFDro

He is a researcher, program manager and M&E specialist in the Horn of Africa. His research focuses on the prevention and countering of violent extremism (P/CVE), border security, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DDR), migration, and climate change. ​

Muliru Yoni
Director - Scofield Associates
Muliru Yoni