The government of Kenya has made deliberate efforts to decentralize most of its development projects over the past five years, key among them, the projects aimed at meeting the MDGs. More precisely, in the year 2007-2008 budgetary allocations, more than Ksh 58 Billion went to devolved structures. One of the devolved fund regimes instituted under this period was Constituency Development Fund through the CDF Act, which was later changed to CDF amendment act of 2007. The fund comprised of an annual budgetary allocation equivalent to 2.5% of all the government ordinary revenue collected in every financial year. Constituency development fund is managed at the national and the grass root levels. At the national level there are constituency development fund boards and the constituency fund committees, while at the grass roots the fund is mainstreamed in the provincial administration structure under the District development Committee (DPC), Constituency Development Fund Committee (CDFC), Locational Development Committees (LDC), and the Ward Development Committees (WDC).
Other decentralized projects that enjoy this synonymous resource distribution in Kenya include The Local Authority Transfer Fund, Constituency Bursary Fund, Free Primary Education Fund, Constituency HIV/AIDS Fund, The Roads Maintenance Levy Fund, Rural Electrification Levy Fund, The Water Service Trust Fund, The Women Enterprise Fund, The National Development Fund For Persons With Disability, And The Poverty Eradication Fund.
With political temperature of the country on the rooftop and the once cherished national heritage ailing from years of blatant abuse by the ruling class, the adoption of devolution in most of the projects under implementation and the empowerment of communities on governance is perhaps one of the few programmes that have helped the government of Kenya to redeem its already tattered image in the critical eyes of the public. For the fast time in the history of development in Kenya, failure in projects implementation is not only seen as an abdication of responsibility by the government of the day but also a letdown on the part of the public in playing their rightful role of being the watchdog of the government. A baseline survey that was done on inclusive governance project by Cities in Partnership with Communities (CIPAC) in July 2009 alluded to the failing responsibility by the public in performing this social and moral role of being the governments’ exchequer. The survey was done to examine the rate of public participation in local governance process and it was ascertained that 74.6% of the people that were interviewed had never made personal efforts to solve the problems facing them including poverty, lack of information, and participation in government based community initiatives. 88.9% of the people had knowledge of the widely publicised CDF, LATF, CBF and women development fund but had very little information on the other fund regimes, and only 7.1% of the people had taken personal initiative to establish whether the disabused funds were planned and used in the interest of the public. One would be interested to know the logic behind these mind boggling statistics on community participation on national issues which are ideally meant to benefit the common Wanainchi (public), but with close to 90% of the respondents interviewed in the survey admitting that they had never met or contacted their area District Commissioner, and 85% pronouncing that they had never met a political party official or official of any government ministry, the reality of the figures could not have been farther away from the truth.
Most people in Kenya are generally behind news or simply, lack interest on the government’s new initiatives of spearheading development through the bottom-up approach of engaged governance. This is mainly due to failure on the part of the government in rising above board in building public confidence on the new institutions of development. Undemocratic appointments to the decentralised government structures render them white elephant projects for use and abuse by the serving political leaders, much to the chagrin of the public. For instance the appointment of the Constituency Development Fund Committee does not allow for community participation in a free and fair election. As such the members of parliament exercise their own discretion in the appointment of people to the committees. Another failure on the part of the government, as was confirmed in the survey by CIPAC, is in creating awareness and capacity on the devolved funds at the community level. Many people are unaware of the devolved funds let alone participating in the devolved projects, there is need to adequately empower communities on various aspects of their rights such as participation in local democratic structures, monitoring and evaluation of projects, civic engagements, political and economic development.
The use of unstable and incoherent social organizations is also a major challenge facing the success of community participation in national issues. Inept and corrupt government officials prefer to work with ghost organizations in the society at the expense of credible community led organizations, this has greatly shredded the confidence of the public in these new development initiatives. Nevertheless, some members of the community are also very resistant to the new transformations hence are unwilling to participate in these community led initiatives. Abject poverty in most communities is also a course of concern to the initiatives as most people are perpetually tied to lowcome jobs hence their focus is skewed to meeting their immediate basic needs as opposed to the long term development projects targeted by devolution, such people usually have very limited time out of their income generating activities to participate in the new establishments.
Despite the shortcomings that plague devolved democratic structures of development in Kenya, both the critics and the sympathisers of the government cannot ignore one fact; the bottom-up approach of development is a shared responsibility between the government and the citizens and its success or failure lies in the hands of all players in policy making including the citizenry. Since the inception of this approach of development in the country, more gains have been seen at the grass roots in terms of employment opportunities, schools enrolments and increased construction of local infrastructures than at any other time in the history of Kenya, but in order to make these initiatives last the test of time, serious checks and balances must be put in place to ensure that this holistic development approach of engaged governance is watertight from abuse and easy manipulation by people with less regard for the wider society