Chairperson of the Council of Governors;
I am honoured to be with you again.
Thank you for the invitation.
I always look forward to this event.
I do because I continue to believe that Devolution is the best thing that Kenyans ever gave themselves after independence.
And I come here faithfully because I recognize and respect the governors and the work they do as the people on the ground.
As people on the ground, governors have a good idea what works and what does not; what should remain, what should be improved and what should be scrapped outright.
And that is also why I continue to call for a closer and more cordial working relationship between the County governments and the National government. When counties function, the entire country functions.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
In the success story we are witnessing with Devolution lies another story that we rarely tell.
It is the story of change.
Change is always scary.
It implies a shift in thinking and re-organization of institutions, communities and even government.
That is why change is resisted through numerous excuses.
But the story of Devolution tells us never to fear change.
Change is the only constant thing in life. Successful nations are those that refuse to settle for less and constantly review and probe their systems and structures with a view to making them more perfect and responsive to emerging challenges and changing circumstances.
The story of certain parts of the country getting tarmac roads, piped water and street lights for the first time since independence proves that devolution has brought life where both the colonial government and independent Kenya failed.
Devolution has done what conventional thinking and the fear of change failed to do for over 50 years. Nobody should take that for granted.
Today, I wish to share some quick thoughts on our journey of change going forward particularly with regard to devolution.
I will be appealing to you to be brave and bold and never fear to push for change just because you will make enemies.
The successes of the two levels of government means Devolution is here to stay with us.
It means that even as we talk of the need for constitutional reforms to perfect and strengthen our governance, devolved units will remain part of the reformed structure we intend to create. Our task should be to ask ourselves how.
Because this Devolution conference is taking place against the background of intense debate about constitutional reforms, one of the issues we must address ourselves to here is what should be the most appropriate structure and content of sustainable devolved government in Kenya now and into the future.
One of the facts we are dealing with but hardly acknowledging is that a number of our counties as they are today are too tiny to compete and to marshal internal and external resources for their development. They are small in population, base for agricultural production, manufacturing, innovation and infrastructural development.
I believe our counties would do better were they to be grouped into bigger entities. The creation of regional blocks is a logical response to dealing with this problem of “economies of scale” in enhancing the potential for development of counties.
This forum and the Council of Governors should robustly consider and debate the need for using the envisaged constitutional reforms to formalize regionalism in law.
The need is clearly there. That is why we are witnessing the emergences of regional economic blocs such as Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani, Lake Region Economic Bloc, Mount Kenya and Aberdares Counties Economic Bloc, North Rift Economic Bloc, South Eastern Kenya Economic Bloc and Frontier Counties Development Council among others.
Formalization of regionalism would not necessarily mean dismantling the counties as they are today.
For comparative purposes, we have a perfect example in the USA where they have county, federal and national governments. Nobody should stifle this debate for fear of change or merely political expediency.
We also acknowledge that this gathering has happened without fail for the last six years. I congratulate you for keeping it going.
However, to make it more effective and avoid being seen as a mere talking shop, I want to recommend that devolved units adopt some kind of peer review mechanism and a system of performance evaluation and reporting.
The National Government has enthusiastically embraced peer review mechanism and has been recognized in Africa for that.
It is the turn of our counties to come up with a similar framework for independent assessment. I am talking of a structured journey for peer learning, capacity building, ensuring that we emulate success stories and correcting one another to improve the lives of our people.
I am not talking of a program for punishing people one for identifying strong and positive programmes and processes, sharing them and rectifying our individual weaknesses.
It should be open and participatory and should include all stakeholders, including civil society organisations, women, youth, trade unions and the private sector.
In this regard, I am particularly encouraged by the multi-agency efforts to implement the County Peer Review Mechanism (CPRM) with the aim of entrenching African Peer Review Mechanism governance principles in our Counties.
I encourage county governments to cooperate with the NEPAD Secretariat in Nairobi which is enthusiastic about walking with them on this journey.
At a time our country is reeling from numerous reports of monumental corruption scandals and outright criminality on the part of some, every effort to stamp out the vice of corruption, including opportunities for peer review should be embraced by all.
And I am happy that majority of Kenyans have embraced the war against corruption. That war is currently blind to tribe, race, religion, gender or status in society. We must all support it.
As Counties rightly clamour for a bigger share of the shareable revenue, let this be accompanied by a demonstrable enthusiasm for voluntary submission to peer reviews for the overall benefit of the citizenry.
There is also the question of intra-governmental and inter-governmental relationships as envisaged in the Constitution.
We need clearer modalities for embracing, promoting and institutionalizing the principles of cooperation, collaboration, consultation, coordination, consensus and concurrence between these two governments.
In particular, we need clearer framework for money following functions in a more structured and predictable manner.
We need a clearer framework for involvement county governments in the realization of the Big Four agenda of housing, agriculture, manufacturing and healthcare. There is a cordial atmosphere for a sober discussion on these matters now.
Further, we need clearer framework for partnerships in addressing our troubled fiscal situation with particular focus on revenue collection in the counties. Improved revenue collection in our counties is important not only for counties, but the national economy as well.
In the spirit of intergovernmental relations, the National Government needs to provide counties with practical and effective experiences for boosting revenue generation and collection in addition to other measures that would strengthen fiscal policy of counties and their ability to finance development plans.
In a nutshell, a little bit of thinking outside the box is necessary and inevitable if we are to improve on the structure, quality and content of devolved governance. I thank you.