After we practically lived without roads for over 40 years of self-rule, president Kibaki came along to oversee an unprecedented road infrastructure expansion, in sharp contrast to the 24 years of Moi’s presidency where disproportionate distribution of resources was the order of the day. During Moi’s rule, tarmac roads projects were concentrated in Rift Valley province, especially around Baringo – Moi’s home district. I grew up listening to jokes about Baringo people using the tarmac roads to dry their grains yet in my home constituency of Ugenya, there was no and still there isn’t a single tarmacked road!
The NARC government got in office and tried to fight marginalization by coming up with the equitable distribution of resources policy. Due to this policy, a number of bypasses were opened up, especially in Nairobi. While equitable distribution of resources policy is well-meaning, it has not met its intentions especially after the devolved governments came into play following the inauguration of the 2010 constitution. The truth is, equitable distribution of resources has been slowly killing infrastructure development in Kenya.
How equitable distribution of resources has worked
I recently had a lengthy chat with a senior Engineer and Manager at the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) who confirmed my suspicions about the fault in our road funding framework as rooted in the equitable distribution of resources philosophy. Let me use an example of Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KeRRA). KeRRA draws its budget proposals and forwards for funding. In a year, they may draw a budget proposal of, say, Sh. 10 billion. When this money is given as requested, it must be ‘equitably distributed’ to all the 47 counties to maintain roads.
KeRRA then divides the cash among all the 47 counties with each county getting about Sh. 212 million. Then, the road engineer in charge of a county like Siaya will have to adopt the policy and allocate the Sh. 212 million to all the 4 constituencies (or the 30 county assembly wards). The Sh. 212 million received by Siaya road engineer can do a road or two but since the “equitable distribution of resources” policy requires him to share this money with the 30 wards equitably, he will be forced to allocate about Shs 7 million to each county ward.
Within the county assembly wards, there are a number of roads that require development. Each road is important to the people who also want to feel that their governor and MCA thought about them. To serve the letter of equitable distribution of resources and expectation of the people, contractors are asked to send their bids for all roads. If there are 7 roads in a ward, the Sh. 7 million will have to be allocated equally. A road may need about Sh. 3 million for proper and quality work, but since only Sh. 1 million is available, the contractors will have to do a shoddy/incomplete job.
The problem with the policy as currently implemented
As explained in the foregoing paragraphs, the contractors have very low budgets to work with. This forces them to either do shoddy or incomplete jobs. A shoddy/incomplete road means that by the time the next budget is available, usually a year later, the road is already weathered – sending us back to square one! This, coupled with corruption, explains why most murram roads in the country are always in bad shape every year. The rains, for instance, will not have sympathy on poorly done roads.
The equitable distribution of resources is not just affecting the roads under county governments alone, but also other infrastructural projects as well. This I witnessed in Kisumu County when the MCAs demanded that the County Executive in charge of Trade and Industrialization allocate the 35 wards Sh. 5 million each for creation of factories in the respective wards. The result is that the Shs 35 million that could be used to establish one viable factory ended up being split in smaller junks incapable of building any meaningful factory in any of the wards.
It is now clear that the policy, while it was intended to reverse the wrongs of the previous governments, has become counterproductive and has turned to slowly hurt the infrastructure development in Kenya.
How then can we have a viable infrastructural development in Kenya?
We should have infrastructure blueprints at both national and county government levels. The national blueprint will clearly outline the roads that need to be done in long term and any successive government must follow the blueprint. This way, funding priorities will follow the blueprint.
At the county government level, the blueprints will show the number of roads, the length of roads, the road funding requirements, and the priority-schedule. This way, when funds are received, the schedule is followed. In the end, all roads in the county will be well carpeted and/or maintained. The thinking of the policy should not be actually in the letter of the policy but in the spirit. The point is to have an equitable distribution of resources in the long run by avoiding short-term solutions. This way, roads will be well done and maintained and will take long before they are re-done.
In the case of industrialization like in the case of Kisumu County, a route the MCAs could follow is to allow for the county executive to create one factory per year per ward (if necessary) and this way all the counties stand to benefit in the long run.
The biggest hurdle for this recommendation is citizen expectations. The citizens will have to buy into this idea for it to work as they are accustomed to the old way of sharing the cake equally. Thus, civic education to enlighten the people about the folly of the old thinking and the benefits of a long-term plan is necessary.
Corruption is still key in killing infrastructure development in Kenya
A 2013 article by Dismas Mokua in The Standard newspaper noted that for a standard two lanes, seven meters wide tarmac road, “the Kenyan taxpayer parts with Sh. 83 million for every kilometer… In Ethiopia the same distance of road costs Sh. 34 million and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it comes much cheaper at Sh. 20 million”.