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Report

Financing for a Fairer, More Prosperous Kenya: A Review of the Public Spending Challenges and Options for Selected Arid and Semi-Arid Counties

Kevin Watkins and Woubedle Alemayehu

INTRODUCTION

In August, 2010 the government of Kenya adopted a new constitution. This followed a referendum in which an overwhelming majority of Kenyans voted for change. The decisive impetus for reform came from the widespread violence and political crisis that followed the 2007 election. While claims of electoral fraud provided the immediate catalyst for violence, the deeper causes were to be found in the interaction of a highly centralized ‘winner-take-all’ political system with deep social disparities based in part on group identity (Hanson 2008).

Provisions for equity figure prominently in the new constitution. Backed by a bill of rights that opens the door to legal enforcement, citizenship rights have been strengthened in many areas,including access to basic services. ‘Equitable sharing’ has been introduced as a guiding principle for public spending. National and devolved governments are now constitutionally required to redress social disparities, target disadvantaged areas and provide affirmative action for marginalized groups.

Translating these provisions into tangible outcomes will not be straightforward. Equity is a principle that would be readily endorsed by most policymakers in Kenya and Kenya’s citizens have provided their own endorsement through the referendum. However, there is an ongoing debate over what the commitment to equity means in practice, as well as over the pace and direction of reform. Much of that debate has centered on the constitutional injunction requiring ‘equitable sharing’ in public spending.

On most measures of human development, Kenya registers average outcomes considerably above those for sub-Saharan Africa as a region. Yet the national average masks extreme disparities—and the benefits of increased prosperity have been unequally shared.

There are compelling grounds for a strengthened focus on equity in Kenya. In recent years, the country has maintained a respectable, if less than spectacular, record on economic growth. Social indicators are also on an upward trend. On most measures of human development, Kenya registers average outcomes considerably above those for sub-Saharan Africa as a region. Yet the national average masks extreme disparities—and the benefits of increased prosperity have been unequally shared. Some regions and social groups face levels of deprivation that rank alongside the worst in Africa. Moreover, the deep fault lines running through society are widely perceived as a source of injustice and potential political instability.

High levels of inequality in Kenya raise wider concerns. There has been a tendency in domestic debates to see ‘equitable sharing’ as a guiding principle for social justice, rather than as a condition for accelerated growth and enhanced economic efficiency. Yet international evidence strongly suggests that extreme inequality—especially in opportunities for education— is profoundly damaging for economic growth. It follows that redistributive public spending has the potential to support growth.

The current paper focuses on a group of 12 counties located in Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs). They are among the most disadvantaged in the country. Most are characterized by high levels of income poverty, chronic food insecurity and acute deprivation across a wide range of social indicators.

Nowhere is the deprivation starker than in education. The ASAL counties account for a disproportionately large share of Kenya’s out-of-school children, pointing to problems in access and school retention. Gender disparities in education are among the widest in the country. Learning outcomes for the small number of children who get through primary school are for the most part abysmal, even by the generally low national average standards.

Unequal public spending patterns have played no small part in creating the disparities that separate the ASAL counties from the rest of Kenya—and ‘equitable sharing’ could play a role in closing the gap. But what would a more equitable approach to public spending look like in practice?

This paper addresses that question. It looks in some detail at education for two reasons. First, good quality education is itself a powerful motor of enhanced equity. It has the potential to equip children and youth with the skills and competencies that they need to break out of cycles of poverty and to participate more fully in national prosperity. If Kenya is to embark on a more equitable pattern of development, there are strong grounds for prioritizing the creation of more equal opportunities in education. Second, the education sector illustrates many of the wider challenges and debates that Kenya’s policymakers will have to address as they seek to translate constitutional provisions into public spending strategies. In particular, it highlights the importance of weighting for indicators that reflect need in designing formulae for budget allocations.

Our broad conclusion is that, while Kenya clearly needs to avoid public spending reforms that jeopardize service delivery in wealthier counties, redistributive measures are justified on the grounds of efficiency and equity.

The paper is organized as follows. Part 1 provides an overview of the approach to equity enshrined in the constitution. While the spirit of the constitution is unequivocal, the letter is open to a vast array of interpretations. We briefly explore the implications of a range of approaches. Our broad conclusion is that, while Kenya clearly needs to avoid public spending reforms that jeopardize service delivery in wealthier counties, redistributive measures are justified on the grounds of efficiency and equity. Although this paper focuses principally on basic services, we caution against approaches that treat equity as a matter of social sector financing to the exclusion of growth-oriented productive investment.

Part 2 provides an analysis of some key indicators on poverty, health and nutrition. Drawing on household expenditure data, the report locates the 12 ASAL counties in the national league table for the incidence and depth of poverty. Data on health outcomes and access to basic services provide another indicator of the state of human development. While there are some marked variations across counties and indicators, most of the 12 counties register levels of deprivation in poverty and basic health far in excess of those found in other areas.

Part 3 shifts the focus to education. Over the past decade, Kenya has made considerable progress in improving access to basic education. Enrollment rates in primary education have increased sharply since the elimination of school fees in 2003. Transition rates to secondary school are also rising. The record on learning achievement is less impressive. While Kenya lacks a comprehensive national learning assessment, survey evidence points to systemic problems in education quality. In both access and learning, children in the ASAL counties—especially female children—are at a considerable disadvantage. After setting out the national picture, the paper explores the distinctive problems facing these counties.

In Part 4 we look beyond Kenya to wider international experience. Many countries have grappled with the challenge of reducing disparities between less-favored and more-favored regions. There are no blueprints on offer. However, there are some useful lessons and guidelines that may be of some relevance to the policy debate in Kenya. The experience of South Africa may be particularly instructive given the weight attached to equity in the post-apartheid constitution.

Part 5 of the paper explores a range of approaches to financial allocations. Converting constitutional principle into operational practice will require the development of formulae-based approaches. From an equitable financing perspective there is no perfect model. Any formula that is adopted will involve trade-offs between different goals. Policymakers have to determine what weight to attach to different dimensions of equity (for example, gender, income, education and health), the time frame for achieving stated policy goals, and whether to frame targets in terms of outcomes or inputs. These questions go beyond devolved financing. The Kenyan constitution is unequivocal in stipulating that the ‘equitable sharing’ provision applies to all public spending. We therefore undertake a series of formula-based exercises illustrating the allocation patterns that would emerge under different formulae, with specific reference to the 12 ASAL focus counties and to education.

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