Beyond nation and county

Post Date: 31 August 2016

Parliament recently approved an amendment to the Constitution to convert the Equalisation Fund into an appendage of the Constituency Development Fund. In moving the amendment, its sponsor, Honorable Lelelit said (according to The Star) that it is “wrong for CRA to assume that marginalized areas have to be counties.”

While we do not agree with the amendment (we believe CDF itself is unconstitutional), the MP had a point. There are two fundamental problems that the constitution and subsequent legislation in Kenya do not deal with well. One is the regional problem: what to do with issues that are functionally devolved, but cut across county lines? Issues like water, energy, health care, etc. Indeed, while not all county functions cut across county boundaries, nearly all do in part. For example, most health care services are provided by a county to residents of that county. But larger L5 and even some L4 facilities provide services across county lines. Water is the quintessential shared resource and must be dealt with regionally. Some roads cut across county lines; energy resources are often shared. The constitution does not have much to say about regional issues, and aside from a weakly conceptualized conditional grant to L5 health facilities, legislators have not yet applied themselves to sorting out these regional problems.
The second issue is the sub-county one that the MP was alluding to. Indeed, while the CRA formula and approach to marginalization has focused entirely on counties, we know that inequalities across wards within a county are often more severe. What mechanisms are in place to deal with this? While CDF is not the answer, it is important to start thinking seriously about how to deal with the issue.
Unfortunately, in the absence of serious discussion, we are starting to see county assemblies allocate project funds equally across their wards, even though they are highly unequal. Consider water funding in Uasin Gishu. In one version of the county budget, every ward in the county was to receive Ksh 1.5 million for water supply projects. Yet census data shows that in some wards, 98% of households have access to water, while in other wards only 33% have access. Are we really going to treat such wards equally?
Intra-county inequality deserves serious attention. Dealing with it may require conditional grants to counties that take a similar form to the Equalisation Fund, favoring wards that are below average in access to roads, water, electricity and health care. This will help to avoid a scenario that devolution was designed to cure: the concentration of resources in certain parts of the county while others are neglected.
It is good that Parliament recognizes that there is inequality at sub-county level. It would be better if they recognized and began to act on the need for policies that deal with regionally shared resources and ward level inequalities. The revisions to the revenue sharing formula, which are slated for later this year, are a good opportunity to revisit what sharing fairly across the country means, and what tools are at our disposal to deal with fairness not only at county level, but at other levels as well.