Redefining the Role of Media in Promoting accountability, transparency and community participation within Devolution

Project Duration : Ongoing

Background

Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a sub-national level, such as a regional or local level. Devolution transfers responsibilities for services to local governments that elect their own officials, raise their own revenue and have independent authority to make investment decisions. Simply put, Devolution is the process of transferring power and the decision to govern right back to the people!

African countries have increasingly adopted devolution as a strategy to improve governance and remedy institutional deficiencies that highly centralized governments have engendered. These include bureaucratic inefficiencies, poor accountability and transparency, unequal distribution of resources and low levels of community participation in development.

The promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 marked a major milestone in the way the country is governed.1 It stipulated the dispersal of political power and economic resources from the centre in Nairobi to the grassroots in a process known as devolution. As a result, 47 county governments and the Senate were established following the March 4, 2013, General Election as part of the implementation of devolution.

Although efforts have been made to devolve governance in the past, the central government has always played an active role in undermining the same efforts hence the long history of unequal distribution of resources, poverty, exclusion of minorities, marginalization of some regions and communities of the country and thereby skewed development. These mistakes can only be, to some extent, rectified through the proper establishment and functionality of devolved governance. This is a sure way of how local communities can manage and account for their own resources.

Capturing the principles of devolution

In 2010, Kenya adopted a Constitution that created 47 County governments with elected executives (Governors) and legislative bodies (County Assemblies), as well as guaranteed fiscal transfers from the national government. Devolution of both government and resources was an effort to address historical injustices and inequalities that were the result of power and access to resources being controlled by the central government and those groups or regions that were close to the central government.

Devolution is therefore a key pillar of the Constitution of Kenya by seeking to bring governance closer to the people, with county governments being at the center of dispersing political power and economic resources to Kenyans at the grassroots. The Principles that underpin devolution in the country are that County governments established under the Constitution shall be based on democratic principles and the separation of powers; have reliable sources of revenue to enable them govern and deliver services effectively; and ensure no more than two-thirds of the members of representative bodies in each county government shall be of the same gender.

The primary objective of decentralization is to devolve power, resources and representation down to the local level. Specifically, the objects of devolution of government in Kenya were to promote democratic and accountable exercise of power; foster national unity by recognizing diversity; 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; and recognize the right of communities to manage their own affairs and further their development.

0.2: Problem Statement

Devolution has presented a major transformation of the state and undoubtedly reversed the system of centralized control and authority established by the colonial powers. It now opens the prospects of fundamental and progressive changes in both our politics and the economy. Through devolution, County Governments now not only have the mandate and budgetary provisions to deliver services relevant to the local population but are also required by Law to involve the people in the planning process. So far, we have witnessed County-driven infrastructural development through tarmac king of roads; development of markets; provision of water for both irrigation and domestic use; provision of agricultural and extension services; facilitation of early child development (ECD); enhancement of access to health care; creation of investments and trading blocs; promotion of leadership’ accountability in the utilization of funds; increased public-participation in the prioritization of key projects; and better access to information on both policy and operational issues.

Challenges to Devolution persist

However, fundamental challenges have continued to dog the Counties since the advent of devolution. The challenges are vast and specific and a real threat to the maturity of devolution in Kenya as credible form of governance.
Some of these challenges include:-

  • Irregular or delayed disbursement of devolved funds from the national Exchequer;
  • Low revenue collection levels from local sources;
  • Weak and uncoordinated planning and execution;
  • Stalled projects;
  • Inadequate financial resources;
  • Corruption;
  • Mis-allocation of the available financial resources;
  • Over-indebtedness including bank overdrafts negotiated to off-set wages and salaries;
  • Huge pending bills;
  • Bloated workforce;
  • Tribalism, Nepotism and Clannism in the employment and deployment of workers;
  • Persistent political wrangling and infighting;
  • Inadequate capacity at the county level to effectively and efficiently perform the devolved functions;
  • Duplicity of efforts at both the national and county levels;
  • Utilization of budgetary allocations on non-core activities in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

0.3: Project Justification

The role of the Kenya media in safe-guarding Devolution

The reality of the amazing transformative aspects of devolution in Kenya is captured sporadically by the Kenya Media in terms of celebrated gains especially from Counties originally viewed as remote and “Under-developed”.
Through the media, the gains of Devolution continue to be revealed in a clear indication that its impact has the potential to truly transform and develop communities especially those historically maligned.

Some of the positive media coverage on the gains of Devolution includes;

1. A first caesarean section delivery at a hospital in remote Turkana where Maternal Mortality was high due to lack of access to efficient health provision.

2. A critical oxygen Plan launched at a hospital in Siaya, Kisumu County, an area where critical medical emergencies are common

  1. Between 2013 and 2016, some 379km of road have been tarmacked, 35,934km murammed, 19,148km of new road built and 9,572km rehabilitated. This despite underfunding from the national government.
  2. Statistics show that the counties have connected more than 70 per cent of households to piped water, on top of rehabilitating and building dams, water pans and boreholes. The counties have put more than 70,000 hectares ( 172,973 acres) under irrigation, apart from subsidizing mechanized means of farming. (Standard newspapers 12th April 2017 )

Media failures in covering Devolution:

Despite the acknowledgement that media coverage on Devolution continues, the bone of contention is the media approach to devolution issues that is awash with “politicking and side-shows” that completely belittles the importance of this system. Kenya goes back to the Elections in 2022. Already as it has always been the norm, excessive Politicking, name-calling, political parties wrangling and negative ethnicity characterizes media coverage. In the past two years, this wrongly instituted media agenda has seeped into coverage on Devolution where politicians seemingly use Devolution to claim political Mileage.

The faults of the media within are diverse.

There is an impression that the media hasn’t performed well with regard to devolution that the devolved units are yet to deliver services sufficiently and effectively. As county governments proceed with the second term of devolution, it’s important that the media moves away from focusing on individuals, sideshows and mundane issues in devolution that characterized the first term. It must focus on why the country needs a devolved government and keep tracking the process.

With revelations that billions of shillings meant for counties either lie idle or are channeled towards wrong projects, the media has a huge responsibility to remain vigilant by monitoring implementation of devolution projects and development expenditure.

However, touching on media conduct seemingly eroded by political interference, media has been failing in highlighting the correct status of devolution in the country and has instead been sucked into political side-shows and blame-game in incidences of Corruption in County Governments.

Fixated with the Kenya Election 2022, PPC has observed that the media has generally been sucked into the political wave ahead of the elections and thus reneged on her responsibility to report accurately and ethically on important issues such as Devolution.

In developing the focus in this Concept Note, PPC affirms that there is urgent need for media to re-define how it reports on Devolution, to be more pro-active4 in its’ coverage, to be more constructive of its criticism under Devolution and to present a conducive media environment for devolution to thrive.

0.4: Overall Project goal

This project seeks to promote Devolution and the devolution agenda by re-defining the role of media as the public’s watchdog to push for transparency, public participation and accountability within the county government.
This Project will also be keen on celebrating the gains of Devolution by exposing the positive impacts of Devolution many of which escapes media highlights or whose coverage is sabotaged by political interests.

Why is media important?

ü Because Media as a watch-dog and as the Fourth Estate has definitive role to play in ensuring resource mobilization, allocation and distribution within the Devolution framework.

  • Since devolution is a statutory delegation of powers, the media must be on the forefront to ensure that there is transparency and that power, resources and representation at grass-root level is adhered to.
  • Media should increase and have in-depth coverage of county government and assemblies in order to keep citizens updated on developing agendas and news.
  • Media must deliberately allocate more time and space to topical news on Devolution and stop focusing on challenges at the expense of success stories
  • Media needs to embrace development journalism to create awareness among the citizens on the benefits of Devolution
  • Media must remain vigilant by monitoring implementation of devolution projects and development expenditures
  • Media needs to be involved in public and civic education on Devolution
  • Media must set or assist in the agenda that will ensure county governmentsfocus on key relevant deliverables and not for national audience
  • Media also needs to sustainably highlight intent and history of devolution in Kenya.

0.5: Specific Project Objectives:

i. To re-define the role of media in promoting and protecting Devolution in Kenya 2. To create and sustain a pro-active media coverage and discourse on Devolution in Kenya ahead of the Kenya Elections 2022.

0.6: Project Target Counties

Peace Pen Communications will focus on Media interventions on Devolution within 10 Counties, namely:-

  1. Nairobi
  2. Makueni
  3. Kiambu
  4. Siaya
  5. Tana River
  6. Baringo
  7. Kilifi
  8. Kwale
  9. Turkana
  10. Garissa

0.7: Expected project Outputs

Regular media coverage of success stories, challenges and experiences from the different counties.

Enhanced Media dialogues with Selected media team on Devolution
Live media story bank on Devolution agendas in 10 counties within specified period.

Compiled hub of enhanced media coverage on Devolution.

0.8: Expected Project Outcomes:

  • Enhanced capacity of media on devolution and development monitoring and reporting.
  • Increased support and public awareness on Devolution and the role of the public within the government structure
  • Increased Transparency and accountability by county governments on different county operations under devolution
  • Increased public participation in county development processes.