Kenya’s Equity Week: The Discussion on Fairness Just Started

by John Kinuthia, Program Officer, IBP Kenya— Oct 18, 2016

When Kenyans decided to adopt devolution as part of the country’s 2010 constitutional reforms, many believed that the way public resources were being distributed was set to radically change. Indeed, the need to open up the discussion about resource sharing and change how revenue was being allocated were major drivers of the movement for a new constitution. The expectation was that by taking budget decisions to the local level, devolution would help drive fairer discussions on sharing resources more equitably.

Over the last few decades many developing countries, including a number in sub-Saharan Africa, have decentralized. This has led to discussions on how revenue can be shared more equitably than was the case under centralized regimes. Federal systems, such as those in India and South Africa, have robust revenue sharing systems that have tackled this question. While Kenya is a late entrant in the move to decentralize, the over-arching principles that drive discussions on equity in many countries — need, minimum shares, capacity, effort, efficiency, and fair process — are similar. We explore these principles in greater detail in two recent publications: A Fair Share of the Budget: Principles and Practices in Public Resource Distribution in Kenya and Sharing Public Resources Within Counties in Kenya: How Fair Are Emerging Approaches?  

How is Kenya doing in implementing these principles of equity? Have we changed the way we share revenue? Are Kenya’s counties learning from good or bad revenue sharing approaches that have been (and still are) used at the national level? Are there examples of efforts being made to increase fairness in resource distribution at the county level and what can we learn from such efforts?

To answer these questions, the International Budget Partnership Kenya (IBPK), together with Society for International Development (SID), and Katiba Institute, decided to host a series of events to encourage public discussion on the meaning of equity in resource allocation and on how Kenya could more fairly distribute resources across and within counties. We called this series of events Equity Week.

Kenya Equity Week International Budget Partnership
A performance at the Equity Week Poetry Slam. Learn more about the week’s events here »

Equity Week aimed to widen discussions on equity beyond the small group of elite policymakers that normally engages in such conversations. While some of the week’s events involved the usual suspects, such as the senate, which plays a key role in revenue sharing in Kenya, we also sought to include a variety of other audiences. We held events at both Strathmore University and the University of Nairobi to engage the Kenya’s academic community, who would ideally play a critical role in producing research into what is working and where current policy falls short. Other activities were designed specifically to reach young people, including a day organized by the Youth Congress in Korogocho, one of the informal settlements in Nairobi, and a poetry slam that was organized by Kwani Trust.

Equity Week also provided a forum for county officials to bring their understanding of equity to the table and share their real-world experiences of resource allocation at the county level. Elgeyo Marakwet county, which uses a unique formula for sharing revenue among its wards, played a key role throughout the week, and members of the Elgeyo Marakwet county assembly and executive actively participated in the discussions.

The experiment of taking the discussions on equity out of policy-making circles and creating a platform for more voices provides some useful lessons:

  1. Kenyans from all walks of life generally appreciate that there are basic principles of fairness that should apply to sharing revenue. While people have different ideas about the approaches government should take to distribute national and county resources, their preference can often be traced back to some of these principles.
  2. Some government officials, especially those in charge of approving government fiscal policies, seem out of step in applying principles of equity in their decisions. In the past, this has led to very unfair approaches to distribution passing through the senate without sufficient query or debate. A good example is the distribution of a conditional grant for Level 5 hospitals. For the last two years, the senate has approved the revenue bills using a distributional criteria based on percentage occupancy rates which tends to severely disadvantage larger hospitals (a small and large hospital may have the same bed occupancy rate, but the larger hospital has much higher costs). It would be difficult to justify this criteria based on any of the principles of fairness.
  3. There has not been much scholarly work related to equity in Kenya post-2010. This is a major gap that must be addressed. Parliament and independent government institutions, like the Commission for Revenue Allocation, will only move policy in the right direction if there is constant research feeding into their processes. What is working? What is not working? What is practical and sustainable? Kenya’s tertiary institutions should help answer these questions by focusing their research on different development models and resource allocation approaches in the counties.
  4. National and county programs tend to share revenue equally rather than focus on the specific needs of individual counties, constituencies, or wards. This persists even when data are available that demonstrate these differences. Equal sharing has certain political advantages, but it continues to perpetuate the inequalities that devolution was meant to address.
  5. Many counties are copying what they see happening at the national level rather than coming up with their own approaches based on the unique challenges they face. It is not wrong to take ideas from the national level, but counties are often copying inequitable and poorly conceived approaches. The Constituency Development Fund is a good example of an inequitable approach to distribution that counties seem to be heavily taking up.

Was Equity Week a success? This question is not easy to answer. It was clear that many Kenyans have ideas about how the government should distribute resources and feel that this discussion should be more open. There is an appetite for discussions about equity and fairness, and ordinary people are capable of engaging in these issues. As a country, we certainly need to have more discussions about equity going forward. The key is to engage people in principles that they can readily understand, and then gradually move them toward policy decisions.


Further Reading

IBP Kenya Research Papers

IBP Kenya Spotlight on Equity Issue Papers

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