Public get raw deal in budget participation
Even as counties and national governments read their 7th budgets under the new constitution, it emerged that the spirit of citizen participation in the budget-making process is a total sham.
This affects services delivery, lack of accountability and misplaced priorities, especially at county levels.
During a consultations forum in Nyeri, senior government officers, politicians, civil society organisations and traders agreed with a survey report titled Monitoring Citizens Involvement in Budget Making Process.
The survey conducted by Health Rights Advocacy Forum (HERAF) noted that though Nyeri County residents are generally better informed on budget making process, public participation is just a cosmetic stage managed process.
“Citizens cited certain challenges including intimidation, manipulation, disagreements, lack of quorum, ignorance, insufficient time and resources. In most cases, the proposed documents are made available few hours before views gathering forums, where, some members of the public are coerced,” reads part of the report.
Nyeri County Director of Health Nelson Muriu said the budget presentations lacked a human face making it impossible for the public to fully participate.
“I must admit that advocacy is one thing we are not doing well. We have a problem in communication as far as public participation is concerned. We lack a connector,” said Muriu
He noted: “But even as it is, the budget is so difficult even for a form four leaver to understand. I keep asking myself, every time I read Vision 2030 how were they able to make it something that everyone can understand?”
Muriu asked: “Why not have the same thing done with budgets? Something that even mama mboga (vegetable vendor) can actually understand. If we as technocrats sometimes have a problem understanding it, how we can we expect ordinary people to read, understand and make informed views?”
He noted communication is also a challenge and the documents are never available on time for scrutiny by the public.
“We may assume that everyone can access the documents after they are posted on the websites but that is not the case,” said Muriu.
He reiterated: “Many people do not read the websites, a good case study is an advert we placed on our website calling for doctors’ promotions but no one applied. When I asked them why, they said they had not seen the advert.”
Posed Muriu: “If doctors don’t have time to read their own website, how do we expect other members of the public to access, read and make contributions?”
Muriu recommended that each health facility be equipped with a TV screen where such information can be advertised and there be more usage of social and traditional media outlets.
Nyeri County Finance committee chair Virginia …. said public participation is shoddy.
“The finance bills are taken to the members of the public when they are already finalized. They are not involved in making annual development plans which guide the budgetary allocations,” she explained.
…. added: “It is important to involve the community from the onset so that their views can be considered right from the beginning.”
Further explaining that the Nyeri County Assembly has passed the Public Participation Bill, “and negotiated with the Senate which allocated us some resources to do the public participation in a better way, most targeted participants are never even aware of what is in the budget estimates”.
Nyeri County Health Advocacy Team chairman Joseph Otieno blamed the executive as well as budget and project implementation officers of being sly and dishonest during public participation forums.
“We get invites to attend a forum with a specified agenda only to find that the agenda of the meeting was actually to discuss the budgets. We have had cases where those to contribute, are handpicked by the convenor, few copies are made to be shared among the participants. The handpicked speakers are often used to endorse the proposals,” said Otieno.
He gave an example where the convenor stands up tells the participants what project is to be done that financial year, then goes ahead and ask them if they are happy about it and the selected sycophants will go ahead and endorse it.
“The community needs to have been consulted before that project was identified, maybe they would have better priorities,” Otieno reiterated.
HERAF Executive Officer Miano Munene noted the need for more training and sensitization on the budget making process so as to have a clear and timely notification on County budget-making process and to engage citizens in all the phases.
“Feedback on budget decisions should be enhanced by compiling the reports and disseminating to the ward levels to enable citizens to interrogate them,” said Miano. He noted. “County government should also consider role of technology in communicating feedback as well as use of both old and new media.”
According to Miano, the County government should create an enabling environment in order to encourage many stakeholders to participate in the budget making process.
“Feedback is a serious issue, in many cases, the public only gets feedback when a project has stalled due to financial factors but they are never consulted or made to fully participate in the entire process,” Miano noted. He posed: “Why go to Wanjiku when things are bad but remain silent or let Wanjiku have half-baked information throughout the budgetary process?”
He stressed that County Budget is the most important policy tool for the county government as it spells out its priorities and provides a framework for the allocation of scarce resources.
“Understanding the budget process and critical budget issues is thus a necessary prerequisite to any evaluation of the budget proposals. Participation provides citizens with the right to participate in the decision making processes and other duties of the national and county legislatures.
“Participation contributes to the sustainability of development initiatives, strengthens local capacity, gives a voice to the poor and marginalised and links development to the people’s needs,” reiterated Miano.
He noted that public participation also guards against abuse of office by public servants and political leaders.