With the first term of county governments having come to an end and vital lessons learnt on how the media covered devolution, one hopes that there will be change in content and focus on this key issue.
It’s important for the media to move away from focusing on persons, sideshows and mundane issues arising from the first circle of devolution, to key issues on why the country needs a devolved government and keep tracking devolution.
With revelations that, despite numerous statements on how the National Treasury had frustrated county governments by denying them funds and that billions of shillings meant for counties still lie idle, media have a huge responsibility, to remain vigilant in monitoring the implementation of devolution.
There is a feeling that the media have not performed well with regard to devolution, that the devolved systems were as yet to delivery services sufficiently and effectively, and that much more civic education and public participation is required, if Kenyans are to hold county governments and assemblies to account.
Increased and in-depth media coverage of county governments and assemblies is essential if citizens are to hold county authorities to account for the services promised.
Given the number of governors and Members of the County Assemblies (MCAs) ousted in the August 8 General Election – a sign that voters were dissatisfied with their performance – media must assist in setting the agenda that will ensure county governments focused on relevant deliverables.
The regional governments must be compelled to focus on local issues, which will ultimately have the most impact on the day-to-day operation of the counties and lives of the people in those counties.
It’s important for the media to highlight the intent and history of devolution and the many attempts at decentralising governance and service delivery in Kenya.
We must interrogate, together with institutions like the Senate, Controller of Budget and other such players, the use of county funds, the law-making process and oversight by county assemblies.
Many governors have already hinted at commissioning audits of the first four years of devolution.
But why can’t they start with existing reports by the Auditor-General. A number have already embarked on staff-sacking sprees, oblivious of the labour laws and legal pitfalls they are dragging their governments into.
Were such expenses planned for? Formulation of policies on revenue collection, attracting investments and provision of social services are key, and media would help a lot if they focused on this.
Thus, by media highlighting budgets developed by county governments, this will enable citizens to see if what is planned is economically relevant to them. Again, the issue of conflicts with other devolved funds like the Constituency development Fund (CDF) must be guided. There is a lot of duplication of resource use and friction between the counties and the MPs – who are patrons of the CDFs – over projects.
A lot more needs to be done to improve coverage of devolution, ranging from building capacity of the media and both the county executives and assemblies, to address the gaps and hurdles.
This should include training sessions on media relations, media awareness and public out-reach and participation including convening of regular media and county forums for debates on devolution.
In addition to holding the county governments accountable just like they are doing with the national government, the media should maintain vigilance on the performance of the Senate and the County Assemblies vis-a-vis that of county governments.
There is strong need to strength departments of communication in county governments, as a way of improving information flow, and empowering the County Executive Committee Members and the County Executive Officers in the handling of relevant information on their deliverables.
Victor Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Programmes Manager [email protected]