The 2010 constitution requires public participation in key decision-making processes. However, progress towards this goal has been slow. Participation is costly and difficult to manage, especially in a country that is large and ethnically diverse.
Recently, the Kenyan government organized a conference on County Own Source Revenue Enhancement which was held at Great Rift Valley Lodge and Golf Resort, Naivasha.

The four-day conference dubbed “National Conference on County Own Source Revenue Enhancement” was organized by the National Treasury on behalf of the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council (IBEC), in collaboration with International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.
The Conference was opened by Deputy President Mr. William Ruto who was accompanied by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Henry Rotich. Others who were present in the conference were Kericho Governor Mr. Paul Chepkwony, Kakamega Governor Mr. Wycliffe Oparanya, Nyandarua Governor Mr. Daniel Waithaka and National Treasury Principal Secretary, Dr. Kamau Thugge.
Mr. Armando Morales (IMF), Chair, Commission on Revenue Allocation Mr. Micah Cheserem, and Director-General of Budget, Fiscal and Economic Affairs, National Treasury, Dr. Geoffrey Mwau were also present.
The experts who made presentations were Professor William McCluskey, African Tax Institute, University of Pretoria, Professor Paul M. Syagga, Land/Real Estate and Construction Management, University of Nairobi, Mr. Patrick Banya, Policy Reform Specialist, International Finance Corporation, Ms. Harriet Naitore, Public Finance Consultant, Africa Development Professional Group, Ms. Phyllis Wakiaga, former Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Professor David Solomon, African Tax Institute, University of Pretoria, Ms. Betty Maina, East Africa Representative, Genesis Analytics, Economic Consultants, Mr. Joseline Ogai, Deputy Commissioner, Research, Knowledge Management and Corporate Planning, Mr. Kamotho Waiganjo, Commissioner for the Implementation of the Constitution, and Profesor Nic Cheeseman, Director of the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford.
Prof. Cheeseman said county governments have other good reasons to be cautious about public participation. On the one hand, if they meet with small number of people, they risk being taken to court for not casting the net of participation sufficiently widely. On the other, if they engage with a broad cross-section of the population they may be subject to diverse and pressing demands that they cannot meet. Many counties have also complained that members of the public do not actually turn up at designated participation sessions. So how can counties meet their constitutional requirements without disappointing their electorates?
Challenge 1: Timing
The constitution mandates county governments to allow open government and to promote public participation in all areas. When implementing this requirement, county governments will need to carefully consider at what stage of the governance process public participation will be the most effective and beneficial. Given that government make decisions throughout the year the ideal scenario would be to have ongoing public participation throughout the year.
However, the Associate Professor said such extensive participation may not be possible immediately, and so this ideal may be best thought of as a long-term goal over the next decade.
In the short-term, it is becoming increasingly accepted both in Kenya and in global best practice that the budgetary planning process represents the ideal opportunity to engage with citizens because it represents an opportunity to engage with multiple groups in a focused way, and because this is when the decisions are made over the way in which resources are distributed.
2. Aggregating public opinion
Prof. Cheeseman who was presenting a paper on Citizen Engagement and Public Participation, said even if effective public participation takes place, counties face the challenge of aggregating public opinion into a specific set of actionable ideas. After all, citizens may not agree in their views, especially if they are consulted in a variety of meetings, such that different groups select different priorities. The point of participation is not simply to allow voters to have their voices to be heard, but to allow them to shape policy proposals. For this to happen, county governments must develop a mechanism which the outcome of public participation is translated into the budget planning process. This will require counties to answer difficult questions, such as how much weight to give to public consultations, and how to accommodate divergent points of view.
While it is important that citizens’ views are not ignored, it is also important the public understands that counties will not be able to respond to all of their demands.
3. Ensuring representation
Ideally, public participation processes should be genuinely representative of diverse interests. This is essential if counties are to fulfil their legal obligations, but is it also important because it will empower the county to better respond to the needs of citizens, and to earn their trust and support. In many cases, this will not be easy, and will require counties to think creatively about how citizens can be engaged.
For example, women must be supported to participate equally to men, but this rarely happens. It will also be important for counties to make sure that individuals from a full range of economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds participate. This is not just a matter of fulfilling constitutional requirements or understanding citizens’ needs. If participation does not include large sections of society it unlikely to be seen as legitimate.
Managing public participation
There is no one-size-fits-all model for civic engagement and public participation. A flexible approach is important to account for the significant variations that exist between the counties when it comes to issues such as population density, literacy levels, and media use. It will, therefore, be important that each county tailors its engagement and participation activities to fit local realities.
As a result, counties will need to invest in developing communication and participation strategies and in constructing the institutional frameworks through which they will be implemented. This will require counties to establish new public relations and public participation departments with dedicated and appropriately trained staff.
If participation is largely focused around the budget process, where it can make the most difference, it will be important for county governments to identify key moments within the planning process that require public participation.
The budget process can be understood to have three main stages when it comes to public participation: Participatory budgeting (1), budget approval and communication (2), and budget review and audit (3).
Ideally, participation should occur at all three stages, because public oversight is an important way to tackle both policy formation and corruption. In the case of review and audit, this implies that it should occur continuously. However, one way to cover all three stages that would reduce the cost and complexity of public participation for counties would be to combine stages 1 and 3, enabling the public to review the implementation of previous spending plans before engaging in consultation on the new budget cycle.
Stage 1 and 3 – participatory budgeting and budget review
For participation to be meaningful, citizens must have the capacity to engage in the budget process before the executive has finalized its proposal. The public must also be able to assess whether or not previous agreements have been implemented. It, therefore, makes sense to begin the process of public participation for every new budget by empowering the public to review progress against the policies set out in the previous budget. This will enable citizens to play their role in the audit and performance tracking process, and ensure that they play an informed role in participatory budgeting.
Past experience suggest that public participation is more likely to generate actionable information if citizens are presented with clear choices and proposals rather than asked to generate their own proposals from scratch.
One way to maintain genuine participation while ensuring that the debate remains focused would be for the county executive to present a simplified early version of the proposed budget to participants, together with information about the other kinds of spending patterns that might be possible given budget constraints. Citizens could then be invited to provide feed-back on whether they fully share the spending priorities set out in the budget or believe that other issues would take priority. The advantage of initially framing civic engagement around the proposed budget and the actual budget envelope is that it will encourage citizens to be more realistic in their demands, and to make suggestions that are more compatible with the economic and political strategy that the government wishes to take.

Stage 2 – Budget approval and communication
To ensure citizens are able to follow the budget process, and to engage with the final budget rather than the proposed budget, it will also be important to allow for public participation once the Assembly has debated the budget, and a final draft has emerged from the dialogue between the Executive and the Legislature.
The second episode of participation could take the form of disseminating the final budget plan to inform citizens and elicit feedback. Such meetings and communications would offer the opportunity to (a) demonstrate to citizens that some of their concerns have been reflected in the final document, (b) explain to citizens why some of the issues that were raised could not be accommodated (as is likely).
At the same time, citizens should have the opportunity to identify any parts of the final budget that they see as problematic, so that these can be fully discussed. One key principle is that while county governments may not always make the changes identified by citizens, the proposals should not be rejected without citizens being provided with a clear explanation as to why.
The benefits of participation
Most obviously, effective participation and communication means county governments are more likely to implement policies that match the preferences of citizens, and are more likely to be given credit for doing.
Less obviously, there are significant benefits that can be reaped to boost popular support for the government and for local revenue generation. This is particularly significant given that many governors have stressed the need for greater resources in order to meet their responsibilities.

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