The fourth annual devolution conference, which was the last one before the first general elections after the full operationalization of devolution, was held from 6th to 9th March 2017 at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Training Institute in Nakuru County. The conference has become an annual event coordinated by the Council of Governors where they bring together stakeholders from all the sectors of the economy to discuss the progress of devolution bringing out the gains and the challenges of devolution. The theme of the conference this year was “The Devolution- Transforming Lives: Tell Your Story”.
This year’s conference was particularly fundamental as this was an evaluation of devolution 4years into operationalization, what have been the National and the County governments gains in policy, accountability, governance, law and service delivery in relation to devolution. The main objective of the conference was to safeguard gains, enhance the understanding and appreciation of devolved system of governance that focuses on public accountability and learning new ways of socio-economic development and service delivery.
The agenda for the conference was centered across 10 themes which included: Health, Agriculture, Infrastructure, Roads and Energy, Natural Resource Management, Education, Gender, Youth, sports, culture and Social Services, Urban Planning, Lands and Housing, Trade and Cooperatives Promoting economic diversification through an enabled business environment, Elections, Media perspectives on devolution for Development and Corruption. This analysis has however focused on the areas touching on agriculture and energy.
At the opening of the conference in His address, the President indicated he was committed to addressing burdensome licensing fees and levies in the Kenyan agricultural sector as agriculture has stood out as one of the fundamental sectors in the country especially as a contributor to GDP. Agriculture contributes about 25% to the national GDP. The President also acknowledged the efforts of Kenyans in the negotiations and transition to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the Millennium Development goals (MDGs). This was particularly important noting the SDGs have substantially responded to the challenges that Kenya is facing and therefore even in the domestication of the SDGs the country is responding to its challenges which include, the effects of climate change, access to clean water, poverty reduction, food security among others.
The president also recognized that Kenyans had made efforts from all spheres to spear head the multilateral negotiations on trade, environments and Sustainable development. This was a recognition that the development of the country is not only an agenda concerning the government, but is the result of efforts by all the stakeholders. One of the key issues he noted was the government was committed to ensuring that every Kenyan had access to adequate supplies of energy as one of the development agendas. Although there was no clarity on what exact measures the government was taking this was an important assurance and a starting point for the players in the energy sector to engage the government on issues that have continued to undermine the sector especially on an undefined policy and legislative environment.
On a panel discussion on promoting economic transformation through enabling business environment, there was a discussion that pointed to the mile stones that had been achieved since the operationalization of devolution. It is evident devolution has opened up the business environment in the country and the county governments have created platforms to attract investors. This was highlighted as one of the greatest gains in investment through devolution with their being clear memory of the investment conferences the counties have held in the past 4 years. This has promoted the development of agriculture among other sectors due to the increased interest in investing in the counties. One of the issues that came up was the level of taxation on different commodities which has become an hinderance to businesses in the devolved system. It is important to note one of the issues the clients of KCIC in renewable energy have been struggling with is the levels of taxation and this especially for solar product accessories.
The panel discussion at the conference on Agricultural transformation for food security, rural development and wealth creation was guided by the objective of identifying opportunities for improving the efficiency and cost effectiveness of agricultural services in devolved system to enhance food security. From the discussions it was evident food security is not about the bulk production of food but it’s about access and affordability of food to a countries population. Therefore, for Kenya to meet food demands for its population, county governments should focus on support to small holder agriculture and invest in agricultural extension services. Another recommendation on the food security was to avoid duplication of roles between the two levels of government and also diversification in farming.
From the conference various recommendations were made which include the realignment of the National government agencies and regional development authorities to the devolved system of governance. The strengthening of intergovernmental relations institutions to improve the coordination amongst the devolved units and also the National and County Governments coordination. From the conference it was also recommended there should be an increase in the funding to the County Governments with the understanding that functions were devolved but there was no equal devolution of resources to the county governments. This was emphasized by the Civil Society Organizations noting the funding directed to state parastatals is actually higher than of the county governments. It was also farther recommended that there is need for caution in the legislation process at the National government to ensure legislations adopted do not lead to recentralization or even undermine devolution.
It is evident devolution has brought about major gains and our particular interest being areas KCIC works around (Water, agriculture and renewable energy). Although from the conference it was not clear what proper gains had been realized in this sectors it is fundamental to note energy and agriculture were major issues discussed at the conference bringing out the commitment of the government in the promotion of agriculture within the devolved units. Institutions like KCIC have a lesson to learn from the civil society submissions which were clear the private sector and the CSOs role in devolution is to monitor and also under take evidence based advocacy on issues of interest. It is important to note to influence government the non-government players must be willing to gather substantial information on the sectors and have proper justifications for inclusions and exclusions they desire in government policy. The success of devolution will be determined by the effort all stakeholders put.
By Sarah Makena.
Picture: courtesy Business Daily