CountyTrak Index Editorial
County Governments must embrace performance appraisal for increased accountability
By Angela Ambitho
Kenyans overwhelmingly ushered our current constitution on the promise of Devolution and its associated benefits which they felt would translate to increased grass root access to resources and political power. It’s not therefore surprising that since the election of governors in 2013, majority of people have had extremely high expectations of their county governments. Against this backdrop, it behoves on our County leadership to constantly be alive to the huge responsibility residing in their hands as custodians of hope. They must understand that the ‘public’s power to achieve their dreams and aspirations lies greatly in their power to expect’. Once leaders understand this principle, not only will they develop strategies concomitant with the public’s expectations, but they will also harness productivity, optimism and goodwill that will see devolution prosper for the benefit of all.
Whilst there are several ways that our county governments can nurture devolution and their sacrosanct role as custodians of hope, there are two that seem most important. First and foremost, county governments must embrace good corporate governance and in every essence operate like well-run companies. This means that financial accounts must be kept balanced; investment must be prudent; debt must be sustainable; innovation must be rewarded; county staff must be properly recruited and well-trained and the county key executives must be chosen on the basis of merit.
Secondly and equally critical, county governments must embrace public perception and operate like well – oiled political machineries. To do this aptly, the views of county residents must be continuously garnered to facilitate a better understanding of the pulse and collective will of the people. Indeed, our county leadership must take heed of Abraham Lincoln’s famous words when he said “What I want to get done is what the people desire to have done, and the question for me is how to find that out exactly.“ Naturally, the “how” would substantially be realized through good scientific information.
Interestingly, a citizen’s scorecard and county performance index dubbed the CountyTrak Index has been developed by our firm, Infotrak Research. The results of the inaugural index are not only insightful but also extremely encouraging. That majority of Kenyans feel that life is better off today than it was before devolution two years ago is exhilarating. It illustrates that the fruits of devolution no matter how small, are already being felt at the grass root. Furthermore, that every county seems to have performed comparatively better than others in at least in one devolved function suggests that counties are beginning to develop key competencies and best practices that can be shared domestically. Hopefully this will translate in fewer county governments needing to send their teams overseas to internalize and share best practice. In sharing best practices locally, the immense savings on time and money could be re-channeled towards county development projects which would be very enthusing!
It’s also very encouraging to learn that not all counties ranked in the top league are rich developed counties. The exemplary performance of some marginalized poor counties like West Pokot proves that poverty is not concomitant with poor performance. The sterling performance of some former cities like Mombasa confirms that it is possible to make a difference in even in high infrastructurally developed environments. The ability of some very populous counties like Machakos, Kakamega, Bungoma and Kisii to appear in the top CountyTrak league demonstrates that size is not a prohibitor to excellent performance. Last but not least, the index has revealed that management experience accrued especially in the public sector seems to have better prepared the governors for county management. Many of the governors whose counties performed well in the index have held public office.
Like every evaluation tool, the CountyTrak Index isn’t without shortcomings and limitations. Comparing counties is an obviously very challenging effort given that county governments operate with advantages and disadvantages that may be decades old; including the presence of natural resources and political marginalisation. Be that as it may, the presence of a mechanism that provides scientific feedback on the public’s perception over service delivery by the county governments far outweighs absence of information. Indeed this index if used objectively and positively should encourage competition and accountability amongst the County governments and ultimately benefit the mwananchi.
It must never be forgotten that the devolution story can’t be constantly analysed in boardrooms and discussed conferences. No! Ultimately, the devolution story must be told through the eyes of the citizens who in their collective will dared to hope and expect the most from a system of government that they believe is best for posterity.