How enhanced land revenue can power counties to fiscal autonomy


Mandera County firefighters conduct a drill during the commissioning of a fire station in Mandera in 2020.


Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Counties face the challenge of meeting the demands of their growing population and providing essential services.
  • A key strategy proposed by the Ministry of Lands is the digitisation and digitalisation of land records.

In the dynamic landscape of county governance in Kenya, the issue of revenue generation has become increasingly crucial, particularly in urban centres, where rapid population growth and urbanisation are straining resources. 

Counties face the challenge of meeting the demands of their growing population while ensuring the provision of essential services.

Amidst these challenges, the Lands departments and municipalities emerge as pivotal players in the quest for fiscal autonomy.

For instance, the Mandera County government has made strides in enhancing revenue streams from land resources, underscoring the significance of effective land management strategies.

Leveraging various revenue streams like property tax, land registration and building plan approvals demonstrates a proactive approach to revenue generation.

However, challenges such as land disputes, land rate payment defaults and inadequate financial allocation persist, highlighting the need for sustainable solutions.

A key strategy proposed by the Ministry of Lands is the digitisation and digitalisation of land records.

(Digitisation focuses on converting and recording data but digitalisation is all about developing processes and changing workflows to improve manual systems.)

The modernisation not only enhances the security and accessibility of land records but also facilitates efficient revenue collection through improved monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

Revenue generation

Moreover, initiatives such as the establishment of a land dispute centre to address land-related disputes, public sensitisation campaigns and capacity building for staff are essential in fostering a culture of compliance and efficiency within the land management institutions.

In the long term, sustainability of revenue generation hinges upon policy developments and strategic planning for operational guidelines.

Delineation and planning of urban centres — coupled with the establishment of a Valuation Roll based on market values — and other land-related revenue legislations, including the County Revenue Administration Bill, offer promising avenues for expanding the revenue base.

Furthermore, the digitisation of land records presents opportunities for cost savings and improved governance, laying the foundation for long-term fiscal autonomy.

It is imperative to recognise the critical role of Lands departments and municipalities as key sources of own-source revenue for marginalised counties.

By investing in effective land management practices and embracing technological innovations and establishment of land administrative structures, county governments can unlock the full potential of their land resources.

Procure county services

Some of the key strategies are the digitisation of market centres and the designation of parking areas within urban centres and municipalities and gazetting them as official parking zones.

Loopholes and leakages are major hindrances in maximising the generation of own-source revenue. County governments should, therefore, embrace full automation of revenue streams; adopt a cashless mode of tax payment, such as the use of a USSD code or mobile money pay bill; and integrate the revenue management system (RMS) to the bank accounts for internal controls of revenue management and the automatic generation of revenue related reports.

RMS provides a front-end self-service portal, where citizens and customers in general can sign up, register their individual profiles, manage their accounts, access and procure county services.

To avoid overlapping and administrative disputes, counties should establish County Revenue Administration Boards, a semi-autonomous entity tasked with revenue coordination among the revenue collection streams and departments, monitoring of revenue collections for proper projections and identification of new revenue streams or sources to widen the tax base.

That not only reduces reliance on equitable revenue shares from the national government but also empowers counties to fund their own programmes and initiatives, ultimately driving socioeconomic development from within.

The journey towards fiscal autonomy for counties requires a concerted effort to maximise revenue generation from land resources. Mandera’s experiences serve as a testament to the transformative power of strategic land management and the potential for counties to chart their own path towards prosperity.

By embracing innovation, promoting compliance and fostering strategic partnerships, county governments can navigate the challenges of rapid urbanisation and emerge as drivers of sustainable development.

Mr Alio is the CECM Lands, Physical Planning, Housing, Urban Development, Circular Economy, Solid Waste Management and Sanitation in the Mandera County Government. [email protected]