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Is it time to run counties as devolved business units?

Counties are not merely drivers but accelerators of economic growth, the region’s economies are agile and ripe for local and international investment with a collective population eager to reap the fruits of devolution.

Is it time to run counties as devolved business units?

The principle of not spending what you don’t have should explicitly apply to county government operations. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Devolution, in theory, has positioned counties at the heart of the government plans to boost economic productivity and decentralise political power. Counties are not merely drivers but accelerators of economic growth, the region’s economies are agile and ripe for local and international investment with a collective population eager to reap the fruits of devolution. I’m sure we can all agree that we all have a stake in the sustainability and success of devolution. A successful and a balanced devolved system of government should be both sustainable and resilient.Given the substantial amount of taxpayers’ money that is allocated annually to the counties, isn’t it time we start considering them as 47 business units? Wouldn’t it be just and appropriate to apply to them the same standards used in gauging the efficacy and success of businesses?

Getting devolution right will be hugely important in shaping the country’s economy. Just like in business, counties should be judged at how efficiently they utilise resources within their jurisdiction. This means counties should embark on strategies to increase productivity by becoming leaner, more resilient and more competitive by generating more value from fewer resources.Much like businesses, there will never be enough budgetary allocation to meet their needs, the difference between the two entities is how private sector views efficiency not just as a cost management issue but also a strategic opportunity to reinvent their structures and processes to optimise on value to their customers and shareholders.The principle of not spending what you don’t have should explicitly apply to county government operations. Presently, according to the controller of budgets, counties owe suppliers, creditors and contractors an amount close to Sh90 billion.The issue of piling debts in counties is made worse by limited transparency and despite the widespread concerns that this has elicited; the issue has been relegated to the periphery at the expense of 2022 politics. It is often said that business problems require business solutions. To restructure or not to restructure their debts is question county governments will have to face.READ: Why Treasury is opposed to a CDF-type fund in countiesIf immediate measures are not taken to mitigate the current debt situation, then debt restructuring is inevitable if we are to avert a possible financial crisis in the counties. The rising wage bill occasioned by a bloated workforce remains a key pressing issue affecting devolution. Everyone agrees and expects that public services need to be better, quicker and cheaper. For this to happen, a professional and competent Human resource is needed.There is, however, a shortage of professionals willing to work in counties due to lower remuneration and the unfortunate risks that comes with working in a political environment.But just like in business, an efficient workforce is needed to create a sustainable, profitable long term organisation. To maximise output, counties have to attract and retain competent professionals and embark on institutional transformation that involves instilling professionalism in staffs conduct and behavior and a radical cultural mindset change.Bureaucracy remains a bottleneck when it comes to effective service delivery in the counties.

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