County Assemblies are inching closer to financial autonomy after the devolution conference rooted for their independence in order to strengthen their oversight role on county executives.
Last week, senior state officials who attended the devolution conference at the Eldoret Sports Club in Uasin Gishu County, pledged to lobby for the amendment of the Public Finance Management (PFM) Act, 2012, to enable county assemblies to get their funds directly from the National Treasury.
Currently, the law provides that the County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in charge of the finance docket appoint signatories to county assemblies’ accounts, something that has put them at loggerheads with county executives. This implies that county assemblies must get approval from the executive when placing requisitions for funds to the Office of the Controller of Budget.
During the conference, both the President and Senate Speaker said that by granting the county assemblies autonomy, they will be able to undertake their programmes more efficiently.
Senate Speaker Amason Kingi said the House was processing a Bill — the County Public Finance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023 — sponsored by the Deputy Speaker of the Senate and Meru Senator Kathuri Murungi, which will grant the county assemblies financial autonomy.
“County governments, comprising the executive and the county assemblies, play a critical role in the success of devolution, through their legislative mandate. County assemblies, in particular, have ensured counties have the necessary laws and policies on which service provision, project implementation and grassroots development have been anchored since devolution got underway,” said Mr Kingi.
If passed, the Bill will control the current mischief that has left county assemblies at the whims and caprices of the county treasuries as they seek money to meet their administrative expenditures.
The Senate leadership has assured that the House, as the overseer of devolution as stipulated in Article 96 of the Constitution, remains committed to undertaking any relevant legislative intervention to raise the capacity of any players in the devolution space to effectively discharge their mandate.
According to the County Assemblies Forum (CAF), county assemblies’ growth is hampered by a lack of financial autonomy, meagre resources allocated to the assemblies, low remuneration for the Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) and the ever-growing demand and push for social support from the community.
CAF chairperson, who is also the second Speaker of Elgeyo Marakwet County Assembly, Philemon Kiplagat Sabulei is on record saying that it’s clear that the assemblies are at the mercy of the county executives since no assembly can run without funds. “County Assemblies would be safer if the Clerk of the County Assembly is the only signatory of the Recurrent Expenditure Account. This would go a long way in strengthening the oversight role of the assemblies.”
Transfer of devolved functions
Additionally, the President directed that all functions that had been earmarked to be devolved, be transferred to counties within 60 days, noting that the Senate will provide a requisite legal framework to facilitate transfer of those functions.
Already, the agency charged with the responsibility of unbundling the full transfer of devolved functions to counties – the Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee (IGRTC) – has identified county functions pending transfer by the national government.
IGRTC identified duplication, contradictions and conflicting roles as some of the challenges facing the transfer of functions. For instance, in the health sector, the agency identified duplication of functions at the two levels of government, with the functions of control of drugs and pornography yet to be unbundled. The national government has also been faulted for being both the policymaker and implementer, especially on donor funds.
In the agricultural sector, existing laws give the responsibility for transferred functions to the national government, resulting in an overlap.
For the past nine years, county governments have been complaining that the national government has continued to retain essential services mainly because of their big budgets, most of which are donor funded.
The Constitution’s Fourth Schedule indicates where county functions are situated and explains concurrent functions. It also designates any other function not assigned to the counties by the Constitution, or any other written law, as a national government function.
Over the past nine years, MCAs have been undertaking oversight roles over the executive arm of the respective county governments. They have ensured that the devolved units deliver on their mandate of service delivery, proper use of resources and adherence to public service leadership, integrity and governance.
As a result of this, MCAs have put several governors and their CECs in check over non-performance and mismanagement of county resources.