Kenya Needs to Involve the Public and Young People in National and County Budget Making Process
In the next few weeks, Kenyans will be hearing of what their government plans for them for the next financial year. Unlike before, when the budget making process was a preserve of technocrats and political oligarchs who in their own wisdom decided what Kenyans needed and what was a priority for a young girl in Wajir and an elderly woman in Mariakani, the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, thrusted an era of people centered development. It cast the long held belief that people are just but subjects and elevated the citizens to equal partners in decision making in governance including in management of public finance.
This could later be reinforced by the Public Finance Management Act, 2012, Population Policy for National Development, Public Private Partnership Frameworks, National Youth Policy, County Public Participation Acts among other policies and guidelines that further defined the very tenets of Public Participation including that young people should be protagonists of their own development and not merely recipients of government support. The County Government’s Act 2012, further mandated the county governments, as the basic unit of governance to realize involvement at the very lowest level possible.
But public participation is not just a Kenyan idea, neither is it new. International instruments as early as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the African Youth Charter to the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, strongly call for involvement of citizens in governance.
Budget making processes is one of the very key processes that affect the people, including marginalized groups like young people, Persons Living with Disability and women. The budget policy provides resources for solving people’s concerns including realization of other rights as stipulated in the constitution and other local and international instruments. Engaging the public in this very important discourse is not just a right, but it is also a very important resource in spurring development within the devolved units as governments will be investing in what the people really need and thus increasing effectiveness and efficiency in utilization of public finances. This is particularly true since resources are not infinite.
Whereas national and county governments have tried to embrace public participation during the budget cycles after the promulgation of the Kenya constitution 2010, there is need to deliberately make efforts to fulfill the very spirit and words of our laws to the best of our abilities; not just to be seen to have complied, but to truly embrace the public as partners in deciding what is done with their hard earned money. Whereas not all thoughts and submissions should be accepted, it is very important that reasons are provided in case of a rejection of a submission and that the very criteria of accepting or rejecting a submission is as clear as possible.
One of the reasons that many citizens especially young people have not been involved in the budget making process is the redundant belief that budgets are complex and thus the ordinary wanjiku cannot provide coherent input into the process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t mothers and fathers decide how much to pay as rent, how much to buy food and clothing and how much to spend on entertainment? Don’t boys and girls decide how and on what to spend their pocket money? Why then do we think that they cannot give insightful inputs, into managing their own funds, and on a process that directly affect their lives? I am not saying that everybody is an expert in budget making, what am saying is everybody knows what is important to them. what’s more important and what’s less important? And ideally aren’t that budgets really are?
It is thus important that governments and civil society organizations to continuously build public interest to engage in governance processes by removing structural and procedural hurdles like availability of crucial documents in most engaging and readily available platforms and to demystify these processes.
Jason Lakin, Executive Director of International Budget Partnerships Kenya never misses a chance to remind us that budgets are not about numbers but the stories behind the numbers. Saying for example that the government will allocate one million to Malaria is not enough. There should be a story of why one million and not two million. Or what exactly the one million do. Will it be for paying drugs or for paying workers? Programme based budgeting makes it easier for governments and citizens to know where they are, and what they need to get to their Canaans.
For Kenya to realize Vision 2030 which aims at Creating a Globally Competitive and Prosperous Nation with a High Quality of life by 2030, and to contribute to regional and global aspirations like the African Union Agenda 2063 and the Global Sustainable Development Goals, public participation in governance and all development spheres including the budget making process is of utmost importance, not just as a fundamental right but as smart economics.