Most Kenyan citizens did not get an opportunity to share their opinion on the just concluded budget making process. They did not contribute to the finance bills, County Fiscal Strategy Papers (CFSP) and attend interrogations of expenditures by County Assemblies.
Many of the County Assemblies across the country received, and processed the County Fiscal Strategy Papers (CFSP) without public input. This culminated to the national budget for the entire country which was read on June 10,2021 in the National Assembly.
Bungoma County Assembly Speaker Mr. Emmanuel Situma said most counties seem to be operating as if sections of the law particularly on public participation have been suspended.
“Corona changed many things including how public participation should be undertaken. Many counties no longer hold physical meetings making it difficult for the public to actively give their views,” he said.
Mr. Situma, who is a lawyer by training said locking the public out of key decisions is against the law and a citizen can move to court for annulment.
All a resident needs to do is move to court and cite the statutory documents or any piece of legislation that has been approved without their input.
A case in point is the Kiambu County Finance Bill in 2013. Court Ruling on Kiambu County Finance Bill
Some unscrupulous county employees have taken advantage of the pandemic to illegally impose taxes and certain projects and legislative proposals.
In Bungoma County, for example, land taxes had illegally been raised. Residents protested and it was revised back to the usual amount. This shows that if people protest then public officials can be held accountable.
Officials in the department of Finance had occasioned the increase. It is not clear whether the Governor was aware of the increase as inquiries to his office remained unanswered.
Most counties were struggling with the realization of effective public participation even before the onset of the Covid-19. The pandemic only aggravated the situation.
Governance expert Mr. Barasa Kundu Nyukuri said that in most counties, among them Kisumu and Uasin Gishu , citizens have been notified through newspapers to download documents from websites and submit their views through email.
“We have seen counties invite members of the public through the media to submit public views. The public never sees some of those notices. Many documents have been approved without the public input which is against the law,” said Mr. Nyukuri.
He pointed out that the documents are at times not available on the directed websites, some websites are inactive while some are uploaded in formats that cannot be downloaded. For example, it’s not possible to download reports from the Siaya County Government website.
Previously Counties like Bungoma have offered public participation by inviting public to town hall meetings. They were taken through the proposals and asked to share their opinion.
Before corona, the participants were clustered into smaller groups with officers explaining to them in detail, what is contained in the proposals and an interpretation on the figures is given. This does not happen at the moment because of Corona and government officials are taking advantage.
A resident of Bungoma County Mr. Isaac Wanekhwe, a 39 year old trader in Bungoma town said he did not understand the figures in the fiscal strategy papers unless it was explained to him by a Fiscal Analyst from the County.
“Some copies of the County Fiscal Strategy Paper (CFSP) were dumped at the Ward Administrator’s office. We were asked to go and pick copies and submit any views we may have.” Wanekhwe further explained that they did not submit them at the end of the seven days, simply because they did not understand the documents. “We used them to light fire.”
His sentiments are shared by many other residents across the country. Some counties have tried holding radio talk shows to explain the proposals to the residents.
This has had its fair share of challenges. Most citizens, who have tuned in say they had no documents to make reference to. And even if they had, they still would not understand because of the technical terms used.
There have been attempts by some counties to hold online virtual meetings which didn’t help much. Many times, people in rural areas only hear of projects when they attend funerals and places of worship.
What needs to be done?
Most counties have passed laws that support public participation, like the Kisumu County Public Participation Act . However, these laws are just on papers and not properly implemented.
The Acts provide elaborate ways in which individual counties are to engage in public participation. Section 8 of the Kisumu County Public Participation Act creates an Office of Public Participation that is tasked with coordinating all public participation activities….
The Constitution of Kenya, 2010, makes public participation a critical component of governance. It places the public at the centre of decision making at both national and County level.
Refer to our earlier article titled Public Participation Amid Referenda Push explaining the public participation process in details. The constitution elaborates the threshold of public participation .The public and stakeholders are expected to participate and be involved.
Similarly, devolution implies public participation principles by giving powers of self-governance to the people. County Assemblies are required to enact legislation supporting public participation and regulations for people to exercise this principle.
Constitutionally, public participation is a two-way process where the government provides opportunities for citizens’ involvement in governance and the citizens choose whether or not to utilize these opportunities.
The County Governments Act 2012, states that county governments shall ensure efficiency, effectiveness, inclusivity and participation of the people.
The Urban Areas and Cities Act 2011, provides for establishment of Citizen Fora as a forum for citizens to reason and participate in the affairs of a city or an urban area. The forums offer residents an opportunity to put their voice on key issues of governance.
The Act obligates the authorities in an urban area or city to develop a system of governance that encourages participation by residents in its affairs through creating appropriate conditions .
This is done in the preparation, implementation and review of the county integrated development plan (CIDP), and county fiscal strategy paper (CFSP).
It is also undertaken through the monitoring and review of performance, including the outcomes and impact of its performance, the preparation of its budget and making of strategic decisions relating to the management of cities and urban areas.
The Public Finance Management Act 2012 provides forums which comprise of representation from different stakeholders drawn from different groups.
Sections 125 to 136 of the Public Finance Management Act, additionally provide a framework for county budgeting and obligates the County Executive Committee member in charge of finance to ensure there is public participation in the budget process.
What journalists should do:
- Find out how Public Participation should be done in counties during the Covid-19 period.
- Report on key documents and legislation that have been passed without public input.
- Interview county residents and find out about their involvement in key county decisions.
4.Check if counties have enacted the Public Participation Acts and if they are being followed.
5.Find out if county residents are satisfied with the just read National Budget.