The National Assembly’s Budget and Appropriations Committee plans to amend the Public Finance Management Act, 2012, to reschedule public hearings in budget making process from the tail-end to as early as October.
The committee observed that the current schedule for public participation, normally conducted by the committee between May and June, does not allow collected views to be infused in the budget policy document. In so doing, this goes against the letter and spirit of the Constitution that introduced public participation in public affairs.
As it currently stands, public participation both in the National and County governments has largely been more of a public relations exercise aimed at rubber-stamping the processes.
By the time public hearings are conducted in the process of preparing national and county budgets, key documents such as the Budget Review and Outlook Paper (BROP) and Budget Policy Statement (BPS) are already prepared for considerations. This means should there be further suggestions, at this stage, they will have minimal impact on the final document.
The Constitution provides for budget making at two levels; the national level, and the county level. With the national budget having hit Sh3.107 trillion mark amid concerns of embezzlement of public funds, it is now more important that citizens play an oversight role starting from the counties to safeguard resources.
Pushing for amendments on this Act to schedule public hearing around October—before the two documents are prepared—will, therefore, ensure views and projects proposed can be considered.
Therefore, the change will enable National and the County Treasuries allow stakeholders to give views on key areas and yet enable the Treasury prepare the Budget Policy Statement and counties to prepare the County Fiscal Strategy Paper in time. Unfortunately, however, most of proceedings are too technical for mwananchi.
Furthermore, the sector discussions are mostly between government agencies as they make a case for more resources, rather than discussions on whether the priorities align with what the public may want.
Besides the timing, Parliament, the National and County Treasuries do not adequately publicise calls for public participation, thus making it difficult for the public to participate in the hearings.
A report by International Budget Partnerships Kenya in September says most counties do not post such information online as required by the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act, 2012. Only 20 per cent of county budget documents were made available online for public review over the last three years!