Constitutional Changes Present a Window of Opportunity for County Level Participatory Budgeting in Kenya

This post was written by Claire Mitchell, Open Budget Initiative Intern at the International Budget Partnership.

Participatory budgeting is the process by which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources. Participatory budgeting programs are implemented at the behest of governments, citizens, NGOs, and civil society organizations to give citizens a direct role in deciding how and where public resources should be spent. These programs create opportunities for engaging, educating, and empowering citizens, and help to promote transparency and reduce corruption.  This post focuses on a pilot participatory budgeting project led by the International Budget Partnership’s (IBP) civil society partner the National Taxpayers Association (NTA) in Kenya. The aim of the project is to improve upon an earlier government plan to increase citizen participation in service delivery monitoring and implementation.

What Was Wrong with the System?

In 2000, the Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan (LASDAP) was established in Kenya to enhance citizen participation in the monitoring and implementation of local funds and services. On paper, the Plan provided an impressive and groundbreaking set of guidelines for public participation in the budget process. In reality, the Plan failed to live up to expectations; citizen participation was low and the majority of funds were used for the financing of personnel, administrative overhead, and debts rather than poverty reduction.

In 2010, a new constitution ushered in significant changes including a transition to a decentralized system of a national government and 47 county governments. Both the national government and each of the 47 counties will propose and implement individual budgets. According to the IBP’s Jason Lakin, who is the senior program officer in Kenya, “The hope is that with decentralization officials are closer to constituents, which will enable the public to hold authorities accountable and will ensure that resources are used more transparently and services are delivered more efficiently.”

What Did the NTA Do?

The recent shift to devolved government presents an opportunity to pick up where LASDAP fell short and the NTA is poised to seize this window of opportunity. In 2012, the NTA, with support from the IBP, launched its pilot participatory budgeting project at the local authority level. Through this project, the NTA sought to enhance quality citizen participation within the context of the LASDAP. The ultimate goal was to inform its future advocacy in the context of devolution. The pilot was administered in five local authorities, where a model for subnational participatory budgeting was tested. To help start the pilot, project leaders turned to Jules Nguebou, a participatory budgeting expert from Cameroon, a country where participatory budgeting programs are thriving. NTA Participatory Budgeting Project Officer Caroline Othim explains, “Our staff visited Cameroon where they could witness first hand a successful model of participatory budgeting. They met citizens and local officials who are actively engaged in participatory budgeting processes, and were able to see how specific community projects flourished as a result of the participatory budgeting cycle.” The visit gave NTA key insights, including that building political will is crucial to the process, and successful participatory budgeting is paramount to cultivating a sense of community ownership over local development projects.

IBP - NTA Project Report

With this knowledge, the NTA began implementing its project with a concerted effort to build relationships with key local authorities and introduce them to participatory budgeting. Officials in all five local authorities were eager to facilitate citizen participation when they learned of the good will and media attention it would generate. The NTA also began establishing citizen budget monitoring groups in response to low citizen participation in existing community budget forums. The groups received training based on a NTA-developed budget literacy training toolkit and were linked to local authorities to ensure effective collaboration.

Outcomes of the NTA Project

The NTA’s work with government officials and community members resulted in several positive developments. First, the NTA used its relationships with local authorities to successfully educate public officials on the intricacies of the budget cycle and provide guidance on maximizing community involvement. Meanwhile, the citizen budget monitoring groups were able to successfully mobilize citizens to actively participate in established consultative and consensus meetings. As a result, citizens were for the first time involved in identifying community priorities and necessary projects.

With the knowledge gained from its project and lessons from the shortcomings of the Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan, the NTA developed the Citizen Participation and Budget Transparency Guide. The Guide seeks to inform citizens and county governments how to navigate budget processes and encourage effective citizen engagement. Some key points from the Guide include:

  • Formation of functioning partnerships with government officials is crucial to success;
  • The definition of and mechanisms for citizen participation must be clear and comprehensive;
  • Capacity building, education, and training on budget processes for both government officials and citizens is vital;
  • Mechanisms for citizen feedback on service and project delivery must be in place;
  • Effective means for dispute resolution must be in place in order to resolve conflicts that arise during the budget process;
  • Counties should capitalize on the ICT revolution to provide information and encourage citizen participation;
  • Governments should commit to timely disclosure of budget-related information to the public; and
  • Fostering collaboration between the national and county governments will ensure priorities are met and development outcomes are achieved.

What’s Next?

Othim notes that the NTA is heeding its own advice. “We are currently applying these guidelines to a project aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in service provision by the new county governments through strengthened and increased citizen participation.” The NTA has established County Accountability Networks in 12 counties with the aspiration of scaling the project across Kenya’s 47 counties. The NTA will focus on building the capacity and technical skills of the Networks and county officials, and will help produce county citizens report cards to be used as tools for social accountability. The NTA will also assist the Networks in building relationships with the county executive committees and county finance executives, who are charged with establishing constitutionally mandated County Budget & Economic Forums. The forums will bring together government and citizens to discuss plans and budgets. The NTA, in collaboration with the IBP, is planning to implement a pilot project in Busia County by facilitating and supporting the set-up of itsBudget and Economic Forum and related processes in a way that encourages citizen participation in all stages of planning and budgeting.

Although Kenya is facing some obstacles and delays in its transition to decentralization, the NTA is not waiting to take action. They are seizing this window of opportunity to help ensure that this time, participatory budgeting becomes a reality for Kenyans across the country.

For more information on the National Taxpayers Association and their projects, visit their website.

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