Last week, the International Budget Partnership Kenya (IBPK) released results of an assessment of budget reporting for all 47 counties for the financial years 2016/17 and 2017/18.
They found that counties are not making key fiscal and budget-related documents available to the public online in a timely fashion.
As a result, citizens cannot participate effectively in the budget process as intended under the Constitution and Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).
There are some troubling findings, the first of which is that counties are still not making key documents available to the public online.
With regards to the Annual Development Plans, which are a main anchor to budgets, as of the second week of September 2017, just 22 counties had published the 2017/18 document online; that is less than half of the 47 counties.
In terms of the 2016/17 Quarterly Implementation Reports which detail budget implementation performance during the year, only Baringo county had published its report for the third quarter of 2016/17.
With regards to the 2017/18 Budget Estimates which detail programme and item level decisions, only 15 counties had made the document available.
Finally, with regards to the 2017/18 County Fiscal Strategy Papers — which is the most important budget formulation document that sets total budget size, sector ceilings and key priorities — only 21 counties had published this online.
Overall, the IBPK assessment found that only about 20 percent of key budget documents that were supposed to be online were available.
To make matters worse, four counties (Garissa, Mandera, Migori and Turkana) have never published any document analysed during the assessment. The star performer, however, is Baringo County which has consistently been the most accountable across all documents studied in the assessment.
The findings above make one reality clear; there is a consistent pattern of low fiscal transparency across most counties. There are several factors at work that create this troubling picture.
The first is that counties do not feel moved to adhere to PFMA stipulations and account for how they plan for and execute county spending.
There is a distinct air of mischief informing this laxity. It is not a secret that the first iteration of devolution revealed how much autonomy county governments have in the planning and use of funds they receive and generate. In the past, it seems that the poor reporting may have been due to lack of capacity at the county level.
While this may be true in some cases, Baringo County makes it clear that counties can develop capacity if they have the will to do so.
Ergo, this lack of transparency seems to be aimed at facilitating a culture of financial mismanagement and corruption at county level, in an environment where, frankly, no one is holding them accountable.
This leads to the second point, county governments know they can get away with failing to account for funds because there are no consequences to poor performance. County governments know that the national government will still deploy funds the next year irrespective of whether they comply with the PFMA or not.
With no consequences for poor fiscal performance and reporting, financial mismanagement and corruption at the county level can and probably is running rife. The basic question is: who is responsible for keeping county governments accountable?
The way forward is for citizens in each county to demand financial accountability from county governments. This is because it is county citizens to whom county governments are accountable and it is county citizens who can vote out county governments.