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Kenyans are taking stock of their own county
governments five years since they were formed
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenyans are currently taking stock of the devolved system of government, five years since the counties came into place.

It is a mixed bag of fortunes for the form of government that took political and economic power to the grassroots.

Opinion is divided on the successes and misses of the counties headed by governors as the country holds its fifth devolution conference that started Monday and ends at the weekend.

While some Kenyans believe devolution is the best thing to have ever happened to the East African nation, others note the system is gobbling up funds with little to show for it.

Kenyans isolate improved health systems, job creation, boosting of business and bettering of roads and education as the successes of devolution.

On the other hand, failures include increased corruption and misuse of funds, rise in fight for resources and entrenchment of tribalism at the grassroots.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday in his address to governors at the devolution forum in western Kenya lauded the counties, noting some have made good progress.

"Makueni has made good progress in rolling out its version of subsidized healthcare provision, and in fruit processing too; in Mandera, child mortality has halved due to the county’s investment in medical facilities; and Kapenguria now has its first Medical Training College," he said.

However, he asked the county bosses to stop misuse of resources even as he steps up 500 million U.S. dollars in funding to upgrade towns in counties.

More than 10 billion dollars have been transferred to the counties since 2013 to bring essential government services closer to the people, said the president.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga on Wednesday similarly lauded development at the counties, but lamented corruption perpetrated by officials.

"Members of County Assemblies, Speakers and other officials in the executive are being accused of conflict of interest.

"They are the contractors and at the same time purporting to be conducting oversight roles," he said.

Ordinary Kenyans in Nairobi picked cue from their leaders as they shared their views on devolution.

"I am happy with devolution because there is better healthcare.

"I come from Makueni county where the governor started a health insurance scheme that has seen people spend little on treatment," Oscar Mutinda, a banker in Nairobi, said on Wednesday.

He noted that selected governors have upgraded road network in their regions opening up rural areas to business.

"I stayed for three years without a job but was lucky to be employed by the county as soon as they came into place as an early childhood education teacher.

"For that I am grateful for the counties," said Henrietta Nelima, a resident of Kakamega.

Critics of devolution, however, noted that a lot of money is wasted in counties, with the devolved units having become the new conduits of corruption.

"I come from Kirinyaga and I can say there are county officials who have become extremely rich in a few years. Some of them have corruption cases in courts," said John Nyaga, a journalist working in Nairobi, noting it is the same case for other counties.

A recent report by the National Taxpayers Association, a lobby group, noted that at least 16 percent of funds allocated to counties for development projects are wasted.

The Auditor-General reports have shown similar wastage for the last four years.

Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi, observed that the country would have made great progress if governors stuck to the ideals of the system.

"Some governors have performed extremely well by building referrals hospitals and tarmacking roads in some areas for the first time but they are countable; a majority are still groping in the dark," he said.

Wandera noted that most counties are saddled with heavy wage bills that have made it difficult for the units to engage in development.

"Corruption and nepotism is also rampant in counties but these are teething problems that were expected.

"The good thing is that they can be eliminated," he said.



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