• A number of individuals, institutions and policymakers have faulted the budget as being unrealistic and overburdening Kenyans.
• But questions on the level of public participation in setting plans and priorities during the budget cycle arise.
Last week Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani unveiled the Sh3.66 trillion budget with a huge focus on the Big Four agenda. Some Sh142 billion was allocated towards universal health coverage, manufacturing, affordable housing, and food security.
A number of individuals, institutions and policymakers, including the Institute of Economic Affairs and Garissa Township MP Aden Duale have faulted the budget as being unrealistic and overburdening Kenyans. But questions on the level of public participation in setting plans and priorities during the budget cycle arise.
For almost a decade, the fiscal policy in Kenya has remained the most challenging and complex area of macroeconomic management. It has been characterised by persistent budget deficits, rising debt burden, persistent low economic growth rates apparently and high interest, and inflation rates. In addition, public finance utilisation and management has been poor, due to high levels of corruption, poor accountability, and lack of openness in the budget process.
Article 201 of the Constitution provides for the principles of public finance and stipulates that there shall be openness and accountability, including public participation in financial matters. The public, therefore, has a role to play in budget making. The agencies charged with budget making such as the county executive committees and the Cabinet have an obligation to ensure the public participates in the process.
Members of the public can participate both at the national and county level and at different levels of the process including the making of the budget policy statements, county fiscal strategy paper, and when the budget estimates are released. Similarly, they can participate when a circular is being issued on the budget process for the following year.
A survey conducted by Transparency International found that only 15 per cent of Kenyans have ever participated in citizen consultation forums at the county level. Only 38 per cent of Kenyans have heard about the forums, demonstrating that county and national governments have not done enough to broaden channels of communication to publicise such forums and engage with the public.
This has always left Kenyans as mere onlookers in the critical process that affects their everyday lives. There is a growing need for strengthening public participation particularly among the young people.
This responsibility lies in the hands of the national and county executives and members of the assemblies. The media and civil society organisations also have a critical role of civic education, while on the other hand members of the public must be proactive in claiming their rights and executing their constitutional duties to inform county and national budgeting.
Dollarman Fatinato is a project assistant at Centre for the Study of Adolescence