LETTER TO EDITOR

Covid-19 threatens public participation in county budgets

The Constitution stresses the centrality of public participation, as a key inalienable human right

In Summary

• The 2020-21 budget-making has been ongoing in the counties and at the national level.

• The Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act 2012 lays out the procedures and timelines for the budget making process.

Public participation
Public participation
Image: OZONE

As nations strive to contain and manage the Covid-19 pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear the virus is not just a health issue. It has affected people and systems in many ways, including the way we live, work, learn, worship among others. One area that seems to have passed through the cracks is the way governments involve the citizens in governance and decision making. 

The 2020-21 budget-making has been ongoing in the counties and at the national level. The Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act 2012 lays out the procedures and timelines for the budget-making process.

This culminates in the debate and approval of the Fiscal Strategy Paper that sets out the ceilings and priorities for a financial year by end of February and the debate and approval of the Programme Based Budget to be completed in June.

The budget is a critical document which presents the estimated revenues of a government and how the government plans to spend the revenue and their priorities for a financial year.

The Constitution stresses the centrality of public participation, as a key inalienable human right and as a duty of a citizen and obligation of those involved in decision making. It discards the long-held belief that citizens are just but subjects and elevates them as equal partners in decision making in governance including in the management of public finance.

These provisions are further reinforced by the Public Finance Management Act, 2012, the County Government’s Act 2012 among others.

The public participation situation in Kenya was already not ideal, with less than 30 per cent of Kenyans feeling their opinions were addressed according to URAIA. But the 2020-21 budget has been most hit by social distancing guidelines and general preoccupation of surviving COVID 19.

Public participation in the budget-making process is a very critical process that cannot be ignored. Counties must, therefore, come up with proactive ways to ensure the voices of the public are integrated into the budget-making process; not just because it is a legal right imposed by the Constitution but because it is the right and smart thing to do.

We need to ensure that groups that have historically been excluded from the ‘market style’ public participation forums where the strongest, loudest and rowdiest gets heard are meaningfully engaged. Leveraging technology is one way of getting the public meaningfully engaged.

Indeed, if we can develop modules for classes, and tools to work and worship from home, we can surely utilise online platforms for public participation. If we can use radio as a platform to disseminate information, we can surely use it as a platform to collect views and feedback from the public.

Leading scientists have warned the Covid-19 could permanently change the way we socialiSe and interact with one another forever. It is thus critical to rethink the structure of our public participation; not just in the budget-making process but, in the formulation, implementation and monitoring all government's policies and proposals.

Aseda is the programme coordinator at the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa