Opinion and Analysis
Red flag in plan to cut on State’s advertising spend
Posted Thursday, May 31 2012 at 20:06
In exercise of the powers that the new Constitution has granted them over Budget-making, Members of Parliament have in past few weeks been interrogating Treasury’s proposals.
Though a completely new task which they are performing for the first time, the MPs have on the face of it done a commendable job — insisting that they must, as the people’s representatives, be convinced of the necessity of each line item in the budget.
The thread of intention that has run through the hearings has been cost-saving through prudent spending of public funds.
Parliament has also, to its credit, demanded that certain critical services take precedence over others and has followed that up with proposals to move billions of shillings from certain departments in favour of others.
Such is the enthusiasm for the exercise of the newly acquired muscle that regrettably, the MPs are now facing the danger of getting their eyes off the ball.
More recently, for instance, the Budget Committee has come up with the rather surprising proposal to cut the government’s advertising spend by nearly 25 per cent as part of the cost saving measures.
Every Kenyan would agree that the search for fat in the Treasury’s budget is necessary. But in matters of budgeting for government MPs should struggle with more than just spending cuts.
A well-run government makes decisions based on more parameters than just cost. It must balance that with national aspirations such as protection of freedom, enhancement of democracy, equity, fairness and human development.
This is why MPs must be reminded that the legal requirement that State agencies and departments use the media to inform the public of their actions is critical and must not be easily discarded.
In matters such as publication of tenders and advertising of jobs it is required by law that the information is put in newspapers of national circulation where each citizen has a fair chance of accessing it.
Kenya has no doubt made good progress in use of the Internet and new media. But the level of penetration is still so low that migrating public notices online would immediately disadvantage millions.
We are definitely an interested party, but advertising remains such a tiny fraction of government spending that one only sees stifling of freedom of information as the main driver of the bid to cut it.