An open letter to governors: How to get quick wins in first three months

Dear Governor,

You have been elected to office in the just concluded election.

From how things look, you may not be facing an election petition because, thus far, there are no major disputes at this level.

By this Sunday, only one petition has been filed against a governor.

But we hear those who lost with a small margin will be asking the courts for recounts, among other things.


Good luck to them.

But you must pay attention to why you won and why your competitors lost.

Some of the previous governors lost their seats for things that are obvious. This is the concern of my letter to you.

You might forget about these very small things and find it difficult to fight your opponents again after five years.

Please bear in mind that voters decided not to re-elect close to half of the 47 governors.


Some were voted out because they did not deliver good services.

They had resources. They lacked good ideas on what to do with these resources.

In other cases, voters refused to re-elect their governor because they viewed the county chief as arrogant and impolite to them.

The governor had lost touch with the very voters on whose political career depended.


There are still instances where governors were viewed as lazy.

On this I should mention that not long ago, I had a discussion with a group of residents from one of the counties in the North.

We held the discussion in their county headquarters.

It was meant to be a simple conversation on how devolution was working or not working.

But before they could get into the discussion, they quickly identified a “dirty county office” and a “dirty compound of the office of the governor” as the bad things in their county.


They were unanimous that their governor was lazy.

I crosschecked these sentiments with yet a different group in a different part of the county. The sentiments were similar.

This governor was the first to lose the election when the election results began to trickle in.

On this I can tell you one thing: be efficient in what you do; and keep your office and compound as tidy as possible.

It is what residents use to pass judgment on you.


Voters see dirty offices and compounds as a sign of ineffectiveness.

Some of the governors were voted out also because they showed signs of corruption.

They enriched themselves without serving the residents.

They could not show the results of devolution in every ward even after four years.


The concern of this letter is to point out five things that you should do to have immediate impact.

I am also pointing out the things you should avoid doing because they will let you and your administration down.

Governor! You may or may not have had a manifesto.

If you had a manifesto then begin a conversation with your staff on how the ideas in it can be reflected in the ongoing development of the County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs).

You must catch up with the process immediately to avoid last minute rush of forcing your ideas on the process.


Of course this is not the most important thing at present but it is worth paying attention to for reasons I spell out later.

Please remember that three months or about 90 days is what is required for any administration to have impact.

Residents will know the direction of your administration on basis of what they see – or don’t see – your government doing.

Ideas on whether you are both a good manager and leader or a bad one, will begin forming within the first three months.

Therefore, what you do within the first three months will contribute a lot to the shaping of people’s views on your leadership.


The first thing you should do to have your authority felt in every corner of the county – and the presence of your government felt by residents – is to establish village level committees.

Also ensure establishment of ward level committee.

Sub-county committees may follow later but the village and the ward level will guarantee presence of your county government in a better and visible manner.

In addition to establishing committees, you should give them resources to help them convene village and ward meetings.

I am certain that some of the governors will make their “first false steps” in establishing such committees.


Their political associates will urge them to elect only those villagers who campaigned for them and cut lose perceived opponents.

This will be the first false step.

Those who will “think out of the box” will allow villagers to elect (not appoint) their representatives.

They will elect village and ward members not on basis of loyalty but on basis of perceptions of competence and integrity.

The governors doing so will win the hearts of residents.


Your second quick win concerns servicing urban areas.

The towns, market centres, village dukas and kiosks, are the meeting points for residents.

These centres and units must feel the presence of your county government through good services.

The first generation of county chiefs overlooked cleaning of market centres and provision of sanitation services.

Establishing management bodies, including committees, to oversee provision of services in these small centres will add value to how they are managed.


Cleaning them up; building sanitation facilities in the markets; and providing services that the residents consider important should be a priority within the first 100 days.

Act on waste management, immediately, in urban centres and rural areas.

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has already made your work easier by banning use of plastic bags.

It is my hope that no one will file an injunction in the courts to stop this from happening.

Plastic bags and how they are used in urban centres and rural areas remain a major environmental problem.


Continued usage clogs drainage system and increases the cost of managing the environment in urban centres.

After all, it is the ordinary poor people who suffer when the environment is dirty and unsafe.

If anyone files an injunction against the ban, be innovative and prevent use of plastic bags in your county.

Seek to have status quo in which the ban remains and askaris enforce it.


Your third immediate task should concern health services.

You are aware that cholera, a disease associated with backwardness, is back.

You should be ashamed if cholera was cited as a problem in your county.

The cholera experienced in some towns after devolution of health care is blamed on poor enforcement of standards by the county governments.


Some MCAs have also refused to have public health officials to enforce strict regulations because they say their voters are punished.

The standards are thrown out because of political fears and threats. Deal with this.

Your important entry point on health standards is simple.

Establish or strengthen the “community health volunteer programme”.

These have been in place in some counties but lack resources to support their work in promoting primary health care.


Streamline their services and pay them stipend to motivate them reach every household to educate on health care, sanitation, review cases, among other things.

Indeed the health volunteers are the backbone of healthy villages because they live at the base of the society.

Still on health, please do not ignore the national government Ministry of Health no matter what the relations with the first generation of governors was.

Co-operate with the ministry to ensure quick and fast enforcement of regulations.

The national government can build the capacity of your staff to enforce standards, among other things.


Your fourth task is what some of the governors are already doing.

The first phase of devolution inherited two layers of staff – some from the former Local Authorities; and those from the National Government.

The governors also employed their own staff.

This has brought about overlapping duties or people without specific roles but cannot be laid off.

A while back the Ministry of Devolution carried out Capacity Assessment and Rationalisation of the Public Service.


While the details were not debated in an intense manner, the findings gave a basis to discuss laying off some of the county staff.

In a majority of the counties, recurrent expenditure is about or more than 70 per cent because of unnecessary staffing level.

Act on this within three months. If you wait longer than this, MCAs will prevent you from doing so.

It will also be politically impossible to layoff anyone.

Act now and ask the national government to find some money for “golden handshake”.


Fifth quick win is planning and budgeting.

Your staff have limited capacity for these roles.

Cash-flow procedures and procurement plans are poorly aligned in some instances.

This makes it difficult for the Controller of Budget to authorise release of funds because clarification and counter clarification are often required.

In some instances, the requisition does not match what was planned.


This leads to delays in release of funds.

It also leads to some of the counties using funds collected at source.

This can be resolved through quick capacity building of the relevant staff.

Finally of course is the need to have candid discussion with the National Treasury on the “efficiency” of the Integrated Financial Management and Information System – why it works and does not work at other times.

Addressing these five quick wins will make your presence felt; you will have impact on the lives of residents in the county.

 Prof Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi; [email protected]

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