Participation of public in budget making must be prioritised

Kenya’s budget making calendar for the 2017/2018 financial year kicked off on August 30 and it is going to be three months shorter than ‘regular’ budget making calendars.

The 2017 General Election, to be held next August, has prompted this adjustment to the budget making calendar.

The National Treasury published guidelines in July indicating that the budget making process will be concluded on 31st March instead of 30th June as would have been the case in a ‘normal’ year.

County executive committee members in charge of the treasury docket in the 47 counties have also taken up these guidelines and published them for their respective counties.

This accelerated budget-making calendar means that the national government and the 47 county governments have to get everything done in seven months instead of the usual 10.

For people who have engaged with the budget making process in Kenya over the last few years, this accelerated calendar may be a cause for concern.

Even with the full 10 months of a ‘regular’ budget making calendar, we have not done very well incorporating meaningful public participation in the budget making process.

One area of concern has been the availability of key documents. In the 2015 Open Budget Index (OBI) published by the International Budget Partnership, Kenya scored 48 on a transparency scale of 0 to 100 where 0 is least transparent.

The score of 48 means that in Kenya, government provides insufficient information contained in key budget documents. Without this information, it is impossible for Kenyan citizens to meaningfully participate in the budget making process.

Another area of concern is time. Notice issued for public participation forums, the structure and duration of the public participation forums have been problematic.

Some county executives and county assemblies tend to give extremely short notices for budget forums; and when the budget forums happen, insufficient time is afforded to citizens to scrutinise proposals, ask questions, and build consensus.

Due to these two reasons, budget making forums many times feel like a mere formality and an opportunity for county assemblies and county executives to check boxes on a checklist so they can move to the next item on their checklist.

In June this year, activists and residents of Mombasa disrupted a budget forum and went to court to block Mombasa’s 2016/2017 budget.

They did so by blaming the County Assembly of Mombasa for convening a budget forum with an overnight notice and not providing them with the required documents in good time.

Thankfully, there are guidelines to inform public participation for the 2017/2018 budget making process.

In January, the Ministry of Devolution and Planning and the Council of Governors launched county public participation guidelines.

These guidelines were developed to be used by all stakeholders including national and county government officers, civil society and all government institutions that are engaged in public service delivery.

Shiateya is the manager, programmes and projects, Kenya Country Office, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW).