Ideas & Debate

Steps to making Kenyans part of the solution

A past political rally. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A past political rally. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

We are back to Kenya in 2022. In this dream, government is accountable, responsive and hence, effective. A national civic engagement movement — STEPS — is well established. STEPS? Society That Encourages Policy Simplicity. Its titling is deliberate — seeking to promote civic action towards aligning the complex workings of government with the simple needs of the people.

What’s unique about STEPS? Think about a multi-pronged virtual network of young people that consolidates civic opinion, tracks government planning performance, promotes the positives of sustainable development and holds both government and private sector to account in a process-focused and data-driven way.

Mostly, STEPS is about encouraging ordinary people to engage their elected leadership not just during election, but between polls. This is done through contributions to policies, plans and budgets; and through monitoring and evaluation of results. Also, through the three demand-side elements of good governance: transparency, accountability and participation.

In 2022, STEPS is the social forum that supports electoral choices based on ethics, not ethnics; on virtues not vices; on performance potential not platitudes and promises. It is also a technical collective that works alongside government’s policy-planning-budget cycle and encourages citizens to demand results along this cycle.

In the wider scheme of things, STEPS is the medium that helps citizens understand that processes are as important as outcomes. Wait, isn’t that what the Supreme Court just said?

Now, if we jet back into 2017, then, in the context of our fresh election, what does Kenya’s world look like? Well, private sector is worried. Government is out of cash, so the interest rate cap will stay.

Our leading indicator of government fiscal performance is, first, the cut in the development budget and second, the reality of limited to zero funds to counties for service delivery. Pessimism galore.

But, if we thought about Kenya from a STEPS perspective, where should we citizens currently be engaging, outside, of course, of the General Election?

Let us start with counties. The first task at hand for all counties is to develop their five-year County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs). The law requires that the public is not just consulted but actively participates in the development of these plans.

So, have you begun to engage your own Governor in the sorts of issues you feel need to be prioritised in this plan? Have you shared any ideas in writing about say, investment potential, agricultural opportunities, ease of doing business expectations or service innovations?

Engaging with the CIDP right now is rather important, given that it is effectively your governor’s action plan for the next five years. Of course, between now and 2022, there will be other annual opportunities to engage, through, say, Annual Development Plans (ADPs) and budget documents such as the County Fiscal Strategy Paper (CFSP) and the Programme-Based Budget Estimates.

Each engagement will be unique to the particular document, so say, the ADP engagement would be mainly about reviewing CIDP progress and updating the annual plan, while CFSP discussions would centre on prioritisation of programmes and projects within budget ceilings. There’ll also be opportunities to monitor progress through the County Annual Monitoring and Evaluation Report.

What about nationally? Well, the 2018/19 budget cycle recently kicked off, with public sector hearings scheduled for mid-November. There are other opportunities to engage when the National Treasury publishes its budget documents so look out for the Budget Policy Statement some time in December.

Then of course, when the Budget Estimates are published in April next year, Parliament gives you another chance to participate and provide your views.

This might all sound rather tedious, but that’s what STEPS is all about, engaging in government’s policy-planning-budget processes.

Why do I bring this up today? First, as a reminder that the business of government continues whether or not we have elections, so it would not be too smart of you to simply focus on the forthcoming vote.

Second, because this is what participatory governance is all about – being a citizen at the election, and between elections. In short, being an active participant in development right from the beginning, not a helpless spectator bemoaning outcomes after the fact.

Basically “the world is run by the people who turn up”. So, have you turned up, and are you STEPS ready?