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MPs to strengthen public participation

James Momanyi @jamomanyi

Members of the public are set to have more say in the budget-making process after Parliament proposed to amend the Public Finance Management Act, 2012 to have public hearings held at earlier stages of budget making so that their views can be captured when critical documents are prepared.

In recommendations contained in the 2018/19 budget report, the Budget and Appropriations Committee (BAC) said that the input arising from public hearings normally held towards the tail end of the budget process in May is not factored in the budget because by then critical documents like the Budget Review and Outlook Paper and Budget Policy Statement have been prepared.

If the budget estimates report is adopted by the National Assembly, the public hearings on the national budget will be held after the Budget Review and Outlook Paper (BROP) has been submitted to Parliament in October so that projects arising from public consultations are included in the budget before the budget policy is finalised.

 “It was observed that public hearings are held towards the tail end of the budget process when the macro framework has been finalised and expenditure ceilings broadly agreed upon.

As such, it becomes difficult to incorporate major projects from the public hearing into the budget,” the report said in part. “This House should therefore amend the PFM law to ensure public participation on the budget is conducted in the months of October and November.”

Of interest is that while public hearings are supposed to be a national event, the BAC only engaged residents of 12 counties of West Pokot, Kajiado, Bungoma, Nakuru, Kirinyaga, Tharaka Nithi, Nairobi, Migori, Nyamira, Marsabit, Mombasa and Makueni. They equally received views from organised groups and individuals.

“The requests from the public were numerous and very critical but due to limited resources, not all submissions could be accommodated in the 2018/19 financial year,” the report says.

In the past public participation in budget formulation has been largely a rubber stamp because Treasury and Parliament do not reach out to all Kenyans and the exercise is organised at the tail end of the process.

According to International Budget Partnerships (IBP) Research Analyst John Kinuthia, while the National Assembly has been more consistent in calling for public engagement, the hearings are held in Nairobi, especially the sector hearings, which are normally held at KICC.

“Public engagement even on national issues has to be decentralised. We saw some effort to do that in the budget committee hearings for the current budget discussions.

The sector hearings that are the main forums for the public to bring their priorities to the budget are not really structured in a way that government and the public can deliberate effectively,” he said. “These sector discussions are mostly held between government agencies as they make a case for resources within their sectors rather than a discussion on whether the priorities align with what the public may want.”

Kinuthia called on Treasury to change the structure on public hearings so that they can be more open to the public across the country and be more deliberate rather than the question and answer sessions as they are currently structured.

“However, this should not be taken to mean that Parliament’s responsibility to do participation stops. The role played by the Executive and Parliament are different and equally important. Therefore, the engagements after the budgets are tabled on April 30 should remain in place at national and county levels,” he said.

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