The agreement that will see the county government of Nairobi cede a raft of responsibilities to the national government raises important legal issues that will have far-reaching ramifications for counties.
On the one hand, Nairobi residents are resigned to poor service delivery from City Hall and expect the national government to do better. On the other, they must be wary of losing their power of elected representation. Similarly, if a county government is not working, there are mechanisms in law that can be deployed to remedy this. These mechanisms ought to be followed.
The city contributes a fifth of the country’s GDP, and hosts the most important industries, government institutions and is the financial centre of the greater East African region. More importantly, it is the hub for firms doing business in the region.
There have been persistent arguments that Nairobi is too important to the economy to be left in the hands of an administration that has not been alive to this fact.
What happened on Tuesday is precedent-setting and there is a likelihood that the decision will be challenged in court.
Counties are creatures of the Constitution, and although there have been arguments that the capital ought not to have been devolved, the reality is different. Those who hold this view, therefore, ought to be guided by the law in the quest to reverse that decision.
The purpose of devolution was to address the unequal distribution of national resources, and while there have been many teething problems in counties, this has been achieved to an extent.
If Nairobi’s leadership is found to be wanting in this regard, then much more than just ceding power and responsibility ought to be considered to ensure that those who take over can be held to account by the public and that they work in public interest.
There is no gainsaying that the latest development also offers an opportunity for Kenyans to revisit the question of the status of the capital city, perhaps going the way of other devolved countries such as the US, Australia and Nigeria which designate special federal status to their capitals. The time for this debate is right, considering the wider context of the debate on constitutional reforms.
Until that is done, however, all counties must focus on delivering on the 14 core functions assigned to them under the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution. Those that feel overwhelmed ought, in all fairness to give the mandate back to the people.