President William Ruto warns against runaway graft in counties

William Ruto

 President William Ruto during the Biennial Devolution Conference at Eldoret Sports Club in Uasin Gishu County on August 16, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

The 8th Devolution Conference kicked off on a high note in Eldoret on Wednesday with President William Ruto sending a strong message and warning to counties that have turned into corruption citadels, telling crooked public officers to be ready to face the consequences.

He spoke, as speakers at the highly attended summit focusing on county governments as centres of economic development rooted for a robust performance management system in counties, to track service delivery and hold public servants to account.

While celebrating the strides that Kenya has made in the devolution journey over the last ten years, the President chose the three-day conference happening in his Eldoret hometown to warn against mismanagement and malpractices in counties, regretting that many are looting hotbeds.


President William Ruto (centre), accompanied by Kirinyaga County Governor Ann Waiguru, Uasin Gishu County Governor Jonathan Bii second (right), look on as Yaron Farachi third (left), Chief Executive Officer of Elsmed Healthcare Solutions explains about their drone, during the Biennial Devolution Conference at Eldoret Sports Club in Uasin Gishu County on August 16, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

It was a timely message, delivered at the conference that is themed on good governance and sustainable development in counties, efficiency in service delivery and financing of counties, and provoked by his Uasin Gishu home county currently on the spot over the scandalous Finland students airlift program

Calling it devolved criminality, the Head of State, speaking after the United States of America Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman strongly rooted for Kenya as the best investment destination and technology hub in the African continent, said counties should not be drivers of scandal, nor incubators of graft or embezzlement hubs.

Devolution conference

 Delegates from Elsmed Healthcare Solutions arrive at Eldoret Sports Club in Uasin Gishu County for the Biennial Devolution Conference.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

“The people of Kenya deserve better, and they must be rid of this reckless betrayal. We must liberate devolution from corruption,” the President stated on a day when a warrant of arrest was issued against Uasin Gishu Senator and former governor Jackson Mandago over the raging overseas study program.

Devolution conference

Governors and delegates during the Devolution Conference.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

“On the 10th anniversary of devolution, we must use this 8th Devolution Conference to speak emphatically to an issue that must disturb all of us. As far as I can tell, it was never the spirit or intent of the people of Kenya to devolve corruption, mismanagement, and malpractices to the counties,” he stated.

“Yet many counties have evolved into notorious epicenters of wanton looting, with everyone, from governors and county executives to junior officers implicated in a wild free-for-all at the expense of essential service delivery,” the Head of State regretted.

As the Head of State delivered a keynote address, Mr Mandago who had been scheduled to welcome delegates to the high-level summit instead was headed to Nakuru where he presented himself to officers at the Regional Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters in Nakuru. The former Uasin Gishu Governor was the brains behind the now controversial overseas program.

The President, rooting for stronger and more financially independent devolved units said no corrupt public servant will be spared. 

He said Kenyans have continuously agonized over poor governance and, specifically, corruption, which manifests through incompetence, negligence, poor professional standards, inefficiency, waste, mismanagement, and theft.

Devolution conference

President William Ruto second (right), Kirinyaga County Governor Ann Waiguru (centre), Jonathan Bii (Uasin Gishu ), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay) and other leaders during the Biennial Devolution Conference in Eldoret on August 1.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

“We shall treat corruption at all levels of government as a high-priority law enforcement issue requiring an expeditious and decisive response,” he stated.

“Regardless of position, office or other status, any person implicated in the loss of public funds, whether in the national or devolved government, must encounter the punitive consequences of their actions in full. I expect the agencies concerned to move with speed and attend to the many cases of corruption that are festering in many counties, including this one,” he stated.

The President’s comments came as a relief to Uasin Gishu's parents and their children who have been protesting and demanding a refund of their money from the county government for the aborted overseas study program.

The disgruntled parents and students had Tuesday called off their threat to disrupt the Devolution conference through demos, citing their respect for the Head of State, but called on him to intervene in the matter.

The devolution conference brings together more than 10,000 delegates from 47 counties and officials from National Government and international dignitaries.

Thousands of delegates started arriving at the Eldoret Sports Club as early as 6 am for the inaugural biennial devolution, with tight security at the entrance and venue.

Delegates during the Biennial Devolution Conference at Eldoret Sports Club in Uasin Gishu County.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

President Ruto said he has made a commitment to good governance and, especially, taken decisive action against corruption. He said Kenyans suffer when public funds are misused or looted.

“Innocent Kenyans are victimized, underserved, or altogether neglected daily because of this devolved criminality,” said the Head of State.

Noting that his government was working harder to eliminate pilferage or resources, the President reiterated his position on debt management, rooting for local saving and stronger local revenue generation and own source revenue for counties, which he urged to wean themselves from over-dependence on the National Government.

He also rooted for reduced imports in favour of local production, noting that Kenya has all it takes for this.

The President said wards must become central drivers in the bottom-up approach, as he noted that over-dependence on government allocations was severely limiting counties' capabilities.

He said the transfer of functions to counties was the right decision to accelerate the devolution of functions, promising that the remaining functions will be transferred in the next 60 days after the National Government and Transition Authority finally agreed on how to go about it.

Council of Governors (CoG) chairperson Anne Waiguru lauded the government for the timely disbursement of county governments dues before the close of the last financial year, and by the end of July, noting that it was the first time in Kenya’s devolution history.

While sharing the devolution milestones with delegates, she said while the transfer of critical functions from the National Government to counties was a major source of conflict in initial transitional challenges, in hindsight, it was a good decision. The period between 2017 to 2022 offered much-needed stability in intergovernmental relations after the national and county government stopped feuding, she said.

“We anticipate, that this current and third cycle of devolved governments will be a performance stage. We are now focused on steering county governments towards the delivery of high-outcome results for each of the fourteen county functions,” she stated.

The CoG chair said devolved governments continue to face a myriad of challenges that collectively undermine the powers and functions of county governments, ranging from a shortage of funds, misalignment of policies, laws, and administrative actions, slow implementation of intergovernmental decisions, ineffective management of human capital, slow implementation of intergovernmental decisions, among others.

She regretted that county governments and county assemblies are often disregarded, and overlooked in devolution discourses, rooting for the autonomy and functional welfare, of the latter.

She said the conference will generate responsive and concrete policy, legislative and administrative proposals that will aim to further strengthen devolution for the next decade.

In a powerful presentation that rooted for Kenya, Ms Whitman termed Kenya as the most stable democracy in the continent of Africa and a getaway for the East African markets, a regional logistics and financial hub as well as a leading destination for foreign direct investment and venture capital.

She said the world’s leading brands are fast choosing Kenyan for investment, particularly for apparel, noting that there was so much opportunity locally.

She lauded President Ruto’s administration, noting that it has made great strides since assuming power, but only needs to address taxes for consistency, and transparency in a fairly administered national tax policy, alongside addressing corruption as it erodes trust in public institutions.

Ms Whitman said the US is focused on strengthening its trade relationship with Kenya, and that the Kenya- USA bilateral trade agreement that will be concluded and signed by the end of the year will form a model and pacesetter for other African nations.

She also reiterated her position that the 2022 Kenya General Election was the fairest, freest, and most credible in Kenya’s history.

Earlier, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair had kicked off the first session with a message to public servants to focus on satisfying the needs and expectations of the people they serve and taking service to them.

Mr Blair, the executive chairman of the Tony Blair Institute of Global Change highlighted what he called the four pillars of good governance, calling attention to the importance of prioritisation as an absolute essential, implementation of responsive policies, investment in the right human resources and performance management to guide service delivery.

In a recorded virtual message, Mr Blair, in his keynote address to the meeting said devolution has been a big success.

Across public sectors, he said the key challenge has always been the same thing- getting things done

“We have familiar challenges- bureaucracies, high expectations…” he stated, sharing his experience as UK PM.

Traditional dancers

Traditional dancers entertain delegates during the Devolution Conference at Eldoret Sports Club.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

“The most important thing is to get those things for the people that need them. Implementation is difficult and should be deliberate. It means focused tracking of every step to ensure the job gets done,” he said.

“There is a need for the right priorities, policy, personnel, and performance management. Delivering for the people is the most satisfying thing for any leader,” he stated.

Other speakers on the first day of the conference included the chairperson of the Devolution Donor Working Group-outgoing Denmark Ambassador to Kenya Amb. Ole Thonke, Safaricom PLC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Peter Ndegwa, Amref Health Africa Group CEO Githinji Gitahi, KCB Group Chief Executive Officer Paul Russo, host Governor Jonathan Bii, North Rift Economic Block chairperson- Nandi Governor Stephen Sang who is also the Chief Whip, CoG, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly representing Speaker of the House Moses M. Wetangula, Senate Speaker Amason  Kingi.

Others were Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga Governor, Senator Julius Recha Murgor, the chairperson, of Senate S Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, Amb. Salma A. Ahmed Commissioner-Public Service Commission, Principal Secretary, State Department for Performance and Delivery Management in the Office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary Anne Njoki Wangombe, Country Director, Amref Health Africa in Kenya Dr. Meshack Ndiragu, Chairperson, County Assemblies Forum Philemon Sabulei and Social Accountability Expert Ms. Wanjiru Gikonyo.