Although the participation of the public in governance issues is increasingly being adopted as a means of obtaining the public’s ownership of the government’s programmes that are intended to benefit the citizens, it is only for the county governments that such participation has been decreed in the Constitution. The 2010 Constitution requires the county governments to ensure coordination and participation of communities and locations in governance.
The Constitution further requires the county governments to assist the communities and locations to develop the administrative capacity of the communities and locations to levels that would enable them to participate effectively in exercising their powers and carrying out their functions at the local level.
The County Governments, therefore, do not have any option other than deepening devolution to the grassroots. The challenge the county executives face is determining how best to carry out that requirement.
The starting point is to appreciate the necessity for citizens’ participation in the governance issues within a county. The second is establishment of proper structures and appropriate mechanisms through which the county governments will engage the communities and locations as envisaged under the Constitution.
For example, governing entities involve communities in their planning and operations for a number of reasons. However, the main one is that they help in building a common approach to identifying and prioritizing programmes and activities that are based on their local needs.
Ownership of the programmes and their objectives is thus ensured and support for their funding and implementation is enhanced. Ultimately, the county may benefit from more efficient utilization of resources as chances for spending budgeted funds on low priority programmes, projects, or activities are substantially reduced.
It is in the interest of the county governments that structured modalities for the participation of the communities and locations [as they may be defined in law] in governance issues at the county level be established sooner than later.
A number of factors need to be taken into account when establishing a successful community participation structure and engagement processes.
A critical one is inclusivity – thus all sections of the community and locations must be included. This is important to avoid situations where the needs and priorities of some parts of the community may be missed out due to non-presentation.
Excluding some sections may also lead to skewed development in favour of those who may be overrepresented; a situation that will be inimical to the objects of devolution, especially equity.
It is important that the people who are appointed or elected to leadership positions at the local levels have capabilities that will contribute to productive community participation processes.
In this regard, sufficient effort and time must be expended to finding a broad representative mix of knowledgeable residents with the required skills and ability to work in a collaborative manner in situations where most of the other participants are likely to have competing interests. It is important to realize that co-opting individuals with the appropriate competency and leadership attributes will be critical in establishing a successful engagement process. Without good leadership, the community involvement process may not produce the desired plans and projects for the development of the local communities nor will it lead to the expected improvements in service delivery.
The county government must also seek to sustain community members’ interest to continue participating in the community governance processes.
Blend of citizens
For this reason, the processes must have a system in which evaluation and accountability are part of the long term process for sustaining increased levels of engagement. The representatives must, therefore, be involved in setting benchmarks and establishing measures of performance against which results may be evaluated. Unless community residents can see evidence that their participation produces desired results a heightened degree of cynicism and increasing levels of withdrawal are likely to ensue.
The purpose of governance structures at community level is to operationalize public participation through agenda setting, planning, project evaluation, and monitoring of the county activities and levels of service delivery at specified geographical areas and echelons.
The establishment of requisite structures, channels and processes must therefore be flexible, gradual but developed in a manner that will generate sustained interest by the public, taking into account the fact that each community or community organization has its unique blend of citizens, stakeholders, challenges, needs, strengths, and weaknesses.
Concurrently the county government must strive to overcome the skills gap through training and other educational programmes such as study tours and establishing of links with counties from elsewhere in the country where more rapid success has been attained as well as other relevant parts of the world, especially those that have had comparatively longer experiences with devolution.
The above observations are based on an assumption that the elected persons as well as the appointed officers at the county government level will be willing to cede some of their powers to the grassroots in line with the pertinent constitutional provisions.
As experience with respect to the devolution to the county governments has shown, this will not be automatic.
In such a scenario, the concerned commissions and other offices and organizations with a responsibility for ensuring full implementation of the Constitution should put mechanisms in place to guarantee that devolution is implemented to the extent that was contemplated in the Constitution.
source standard newspaper 18/04/2013