By Patrick Mariru
It is clear from most writers, that decentralization has been adopted in many jurisdictions as a preferred governance structure and system. There are clear arguments on the fact that centralized governance is increasingly being avoided and there is a marked preference for decentralization. According to Crook and Manor (1998, 1), decentralization is evident in autocratic as well as democratic regimes. The support is obviously drawn from the self interests of the leaders in these regimes – for example, autocratic leaders have opted for decentralization as a substitute for democratization while democratic regimes have embraced the same as a way of giving people space and opportunities for self governance and growth.
That said, there is an inherent question, on what would be the basis for an evaluation and assessment of quality of governance under a decentralization regime. How would a country, or a people, empirically evaluate and assess the success or otherwise of decentralization? How would decentralization be assessed to show whether there is actual value to the people? These questions are critical yet not easy to deal with.
This paper will be dealing with the methodologies of evaluating and assessing the impacts of decentralization. It will also be dealing with how these methodologies would be applied with particular focus on the practicality of the same. The paper will juxtapose the Kenyan situation today. In 2010, Kenyans promulgated a new constitution. One of the major highlight of this constitution is devolution which particularly provided for both the national and county governments. There are forty-seven counties in Kenya each with a full outlay of governance structures including both the county executives (each headed by a County Governor) and assemblies (each headed by a County Assembly speaker).
Assessing and evaluating decentralization
The actual assessment of how decentralization has performed in a given period is itself a challenge. There is no straightforward way of doing this. According to Turner and Hulme (1997), there is always a challenge, in such an endeavor, especially when there are several parameters used to measure it with a possibility of conflicting evidence. In other cases, there could possibly be what is referred to as multicollinearity. This is where there is a high degree of correlation between different parameters to an extent that the end results (how each parameter individually and directly influence or impact decentralization) become warped and mixed-up.
Parameters for ‘measuring’ decentralization
Turner and Hulme (1997) argue that service delivery is not the only possible measure of whether decentralization has performed or not. He argues that public participation in governance as well as national cohesion and integration as other possible parameters. However, it is important to note that these parameters are not always concurrent. It is possible to have improved public participation opportunities and yet have poorer service delivery on the ground.
The Kenyan situation
In Kenya, the assessment or evaluation of decentralization would have to be drawn from Article 174 in chapter eleven of the Kenya constitution. In this chapter, the values of devolution are clearly itemized which are: –
to promote democratic and accountable exercise of power;
to foster national unity by recognising diversity;
to give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them;
to recognise the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development;
to protect and promote the interests and rights of minorities and marginalised communities;
to promote social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services throughout Kenya;
to ensure equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout Kenya;
to facilitate the decentralization of State organs, their functions and services, from the capital of Kenya; and
to enhance checks and balances and the separation of powers.
These objectives explain why Kenyans adopted the devolved system of government during the 2010 referendum. According to the World Bank report titled devolution without disruption (2012), devolution was one of the major highlight of the new constitution. The report notes.
Kenya’s new Constitution marks a critical juncture in the nation’s history. It is widely perceived by Kenyans from all walks of life as a new beginning. Indeed, many feel that post-independence Kenya has been characterized by centralization of political and economic power in the hands of a few, resulting in a spatially uneven and unfair distribution of resources and corresponding inequities in access to social services: the opposite of an inclusive state. Its vision encompasses a dramatic transformation of the Kenyan State through new accountable and transparent institutions, inclusive approaches to government, and a firm focus on equitable service delivery for all Kenyans through the newly established county governments.
In the Kenya situation therefore, with the very high expectations, hopes and clear objectives for going the devolution route, the assessment and evaluation of whether devolution has performed, or not, is complex and multi-faceted. It follows therefore that any assessment or evaluation of devolution in Kenya would need to empirically establish whether the above objectives have been met. It is important to note that such an evaluation would have to bear in mind the fact that devolution in Kenya is fairly new (having come into place in 2010) and that to realize full value of the same would take time, resources and commitment both from the government as well as non state actors including ordinary citizens.
Participation as a measure of decentralization
Public participation is having an open and structured space for citizens to engage and participate in governance process. This process can take different paths and perspectives. In many jurisdictions now, public participation is actually entrenched in law.
According to Crook and Manor (1998), participation in governance is one of the ways of assessing and evaluating whether decentralization has performed. Participation in this context would be broad and sometimes complex. In an undertaking to assess and evaluate performance using this parameters, the study would include electoral participation, lobbying and other possible interfaces between the citizens and their government officials. On one part, it is easy to check this as it would involve establishing, through official data, the number of people attending a particular meeting among other aspects. However, it would be harder to establish the value of their contribution (if any) and whether this eventually contributes to the question or matter under consideration.
In the Kenyan case, the evaluation and assessment would need to get deeper and actually establish the attendance and participation of women, marginalized groups and youth in governance processes. One of the objectives of devolution is to give definite space and opportunity for the marginalized groups to influence governance processes. The Kenyan constitution and laws have expressly mandated government officials, systems and processes to not only guarantee public participation but also to actively promote it. Part eight, nine and ten of the County Governments Act, for example, expressly provide the methodologies of undertaking public participation.
Actually, Crook and Manor (1998) argues that an evaluation and assessment under this parameter would involve also establishing whether decentralized government had actually broadened the scope of participation especially to include the hitherto excluded segments of community including women, youth and persons living with disabilities. Most importantly according to Crook and Manor (1998) is the connection between participation, performance and accountability. When citizens are fully engaged in governance processes, it drives accountability among government officials and this eventually leads to performance of the devolved governments.
In sum, it is important to state that although public participation can be assessed and evaluated to a reasonable extent, there is still a clear challenge on achieving absolute success. Some aspects of evaluation are not measurable. It would be difficult to measure the extent and success or otherwise of campaigning, lobbying and related participation methodologies. It would also be difficult to measure the nexus between participation and other criteria of measuring performance like service delivery.
Vengroff-Ben Salem model (VBS)
According to Vengroff and Salem (1992), to measure the quality of decentralization, one would have to consider scope, intensity and commitment.
This is the measure of spread and coverage of a decentralization program. In this case the devolution program could be designed to have national, regional or even smaller spread like a city. In Kenya, the counties are spread across the entire country. The lowest constitutional level of devolution is county, with the law (County Government Act) giving the county governments latitude to decentralize service delivery further to the village levels. This shows that counties have a greater space to contribute to good governance. Further decentralization to lower units in terms of service delivery is commendable as it ensures that the citizens are served adequately. The provision for further decentralization of services to the village levels has double implications. On one hand, there is the challenge and reality of costs. In the Kenyan case, the County Government Act does not expressly state the number of villages per county thus leaving that discretion to the County Assemblies (regional parliaments). This discretion can easily be misused by the political class by having more than necessary villages in order to maximize political support and mobilization. On the other hand, the village level service delivery centers ensures that government work and services gets closer to the people.
On population – which is a parameter under scope – the measure would be whether everyone has space to engage and contribute to devolution. In the Kenyan case, all adult population have the latitude to contribute to good governance at county levels. This is a mark of quality devolution. However, it is important to note that with the experience of the Kenya case, especially the county of Laikipia, there has been a decline in the number of adults attending public participation forums. This has largely been because of not so clear connection between public participation processes as well as actual needs and wants of the people on the ground which includes water, infrastructure and healthcare among others.
The substantive areas of functions and powers of concern is itself a measure of decentralization. In the Kenyan case for example, schedule four and part two of the constitution stipulates the functions under the two levels of government. In practice, this is not clearly cut and has been subject of stiff political and judicial contestations between the two levels of government. Actually, the two levels of government have robustly argued for or against devolution of certain functions especially the healthcare (Sarah Ooko, 2014). This jurisdictional conflict between the national and county governments have clouded out the assessment of whether devolution of healthcare has improved the healthcare generally for the people in Kenya.
Vengroff and Salem (1992) argued that the quality of decentralization can be measured by the intensity thereof. In this case the more substantive form of decentralization like devolution with a significant level of autonomy on both human and financial management would be an indicator of a higher quality of decentralization. However, it is important to note that this measure may not be as straightforward as has been outlined here. To assess the quality of decentralization would be much more complex with a more substantive interweaving of the three factors – type of decentralization, personnel arrangements as well as budgetary architecture.
In Kenya, the constitution provides for a more substantive form of decentralization – the devolution. Article one of the constitution on the sovereignty of the people clearly provides thus:-
The sovereign power of the people is exercised at the national level and the county level.
The entire devolution arrangement permeates across the entire constitution and more elaborately in chapter eleven of the same. The forty-seven counties have both the executive and legislative arms with fourteen functions clearly falling under them. These functions range from health, agriculture, county roads and trade. The personnel manning these functions are fully under the jurisdiction of the counties in terms of recruitment and management.
However, section seventy-seven of the County Government Act provides for a link between local staff management processes and the national public service processes especially where the local staff have a right of a final appeal to the national Public Service Commission. The Kenya constitution provides for a minimum (fifteen percent) national sharable revenue to the counties thus guaranteeing some level of funding from the national kitty. This financial arrangement is further outlined in the newly enacted Public Finance Management Act.
The Kenyan situation has not been smooth especially around the transition period. The Transition to County Government Act provides for phased transition of functions to the county levels. However, this transition was taken with suspicion and mistrust between the two levels governments with the Transitional Authority (the transition to counties management body) being slow and not providing firmer direction on the matter Obala (2013). This therefore has meant that its difficult for anyone, at least in the immediate term, to empirically assess the quality of devolution in Kenya based on this parameters.
To assess commitment as an indicator of quality of decentralization may not be as easy as it sounds. However, it is possible that some aspects under this including the existence of enabling legal structures and extent of fiscal support could easily be measured. Others like public endorsements of decentralization by officials at the national level as well as the quality of both elected and nominated representatives at the local levels may not be easy to assess and measure.
To have empirical assessment of quality of decentralization under this aspect would require a first assessment of time. For example, a devolution process that has barely taken off like the Kenyan situation (this has been existence from 2010) may not provide an ideal case study. This is because of the myriad of transitional challenges and hiccups that the country would be facing at the transition period.
Other factors that would be considered under this would be the linkage between decentralization and corruption .Gatti (2000) and Crook and Manor (1998) have shown that there has been a solid linkage between decentralization and corruption especially in Africa and Asia.
It is not in contention that decentralization is now being adopted as progressive and widely acceptable form of governance (Chathukulam (2003). It is further increasingly becoming clear that there is need to have mechanisms of assessing and measuring the quality of decentralization. The quality of contribution would revolve around service delivery and public participation in governance processes.
In sum, it is clear that assessing and measuring decentralization initiatives is not necessarily a straightforward matter. The main problem is indeed establishing the contribution of each parameter to the success or failure of decentralization initiatives. This is mainly because various parameters contribute to decentralization differently. Further, its possible that these parameters would be at play differently from one region to another – more specifically, developing and developed countries would post different results. The period of decentralization in a particular country is defining in the endeavor to measure and assess it. For example, a country that has lately adopted and is practicing decentralization would be facing different dynamics from one that has a longer period.
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The Author is a member of Internationa Institute for Legislative Affairs Board and also the Speaker of Laikipia County Assembly