By Evelyn Samba
Amid the frantic political activity due to the August 8 General Election, government business should continue as usual.
One of the most crucial of these government processes is the budget making, at both national and county levels.
Counties not publishing budget documents
However, a recent assessment by the International Budget Partnership on budget transparency in the Kenyan counties shows all is not well. The report showed only two county governments in Kenya had published budget documents online, at the time of the study.
This lack of transparency is alarming. Kenya’s public finance management system should be participatory. Citizens and their governments build consensus on service delivery and development priorities.
The Public Finance Management Act of 2012 prescribes everything that should occur in Kenya, regarding public finance management.
Not only is it alarming that the county governments are not publishing key budget documents online, it is also illegal.
The Public Finance Management Act, Part 2 of Section 125 states that,
The County Executive Committee member for Finance shall ensure there is public participation in the budget making process, this includes publishing budget documents every quarter as required by law.
In the past, the state treated the public information it held unreasonably as ‘government secrets’, under the auspices of laws such as the Official Secrets Act.
However, the 2010 Constitution turned this ‘siri kali’ dispensation on its head. Article 35 of the Constitution states that every citizen has the right of access to information held by the state, and information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom.
Access to Information
In 2016, Parliament passed the Access to Information Act, 2016 to officially activate Article 35 of the Constitution on access to information. The Access to Information Act, 2016 is a game changer in at least three ways.
First, it makes it mandatory for the county governments to proactively publish information in their custody. This includes documents relating to budget making.
Second, the law assigns the responsibility of ensuring public institutions comply with the law. Chief executive officers of public agencies have the role of information access officers.
Third, the law has provisions on sanctions that information access officers are liable in the event that their agencies do not proactively publish certain information.
The counties are crucial service delivery agencies for many Kenyans. According to the law, Kenyans must be involved in planning, execution and evaluation of all county government activities. One of the most important government processes that citizens can engage with is the budget making process, which affects everything else that governments do.
Counties should involve Citizens in decision-making
For citizens to enjoy quality services, and for the counties to provide such services, it is vital that they do better at providing documents pertaining to the budget making process. These are annual development plans, county fiscal strategy papers, quarterly implementation reports, and budget estimates (proposed budgets).
The latest data published by the Communications Authority of Kenya shows over 20 million Kenyans have access to the internet.
County websites can be powerful communication tools. They can that grant the county governments a channel to easily publish information at a very low cost, and still reach these Kenyans who have access to the internet.
Now that the law is clear, the county governments must publish budget information. The devolved units have the internet as a powerful tool to publish allocations information. There is no excuse. Counties must do better and publish this information to facilitate public participation in budget making.
The author is country director, at Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW)
(First published by The Star. Edited for clarity)