Making Kenya’s Newly Opened Budgets Work

This post is from “That’s How the Light Gets In”: Making Change in Closing Political Environmentsa collection of essays that examine evidence of how to pursue fiscal accountability in a tougher political environment. The collection is a companion to IBP’s 2016 Annual Report. Read more essays from the collection on the Open Budgets Blog here.

Following the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya, the country underwent a reform process that included the development and passage of a new constitution in 2010. The reforms included a major decentralization effort through the creation of a new two-tiered system of government that established 47 counties. Among other goals, the reform aimed to promote democratic and accountable governance, ensure the equitable sharing of national and local resources, and enhance the balance in separation of powers.

IBP’s Kenya team has sought to promote more open, inclusive, and equitable budget processes through multiple and reinforcing efforts at the national level and in several of the new counties. One area of work is to bolster and leverage local budget processes to maintain and enhance resources for service delivery. These efforts are reinforced by analysis, support, and advocacy at the national level to promote the functionality of county budget processes.

At the county level, IBP Kenya and its partners seek to support inclusive engagement in the budget process. Yet outcomes have been mixed, as there has been limited receptivity to CSO engagement by government actors. This has forced IBP’s civil society partners to learn and adapt their approaches, sometimes after investing significant time and effort in a seemingly promising avenue of engagement.

Such is the case with the work of IBP partner Kerio Center in Uasin Gishu to ensure resources in the county budget for persons living with disabilities (PLWD). In 2015 Kerio noted in their review of the budget estimates that there were no funds allocated toward services for PLWD. Separately, PLWD organizations were aware of the issue and took multiple actions to reach out to decision makers in the county executive branch and their members in the County Assembly.

As a result of this advocacy, the County Assembly held a town hall-style meeting to discuss the budget with the Uasin Gishu Disability Forum, an organized group of PLWD. Based on the outcomes of this meeting, the County Assembly allocated KSH 20 million (approximately USD 200,000) for programs and services for this population. This seemed like a great success for civil society, which had identified the gap in the budget, engaged government decision makers about the need for programs and services, and ultimately ensured substantial new resources for this underserved group.

However, after the initial meeting, neither Kerio nor the members of the Disability Forum heard anything further about how the funds were to be allocated. In order to prevent the county from spending these funds without proper consultations with PLWD, the Disability Forum decided to try to find a way to influence the process in the County Assembly. The group reached out to the Assembly through formal procedures, but never heard back.

After reaching out to assembly members through official channels and getting no response, the Disability Forum decided, with the support of Kerio Center, to proactively determine their own priorities for the KSH 20 million and present them to the County Assembly. They prepared and submitted a letter that included a detailed memorandum of the affected population’s proposals for how they wanted the money to be spent. Kerio assisted with the drafting of the proposals and letter, which included a detailed budget and outline of PLWD’s priority programs and activities. They never heard back from the assembly.

Getting no response from the County Executive, County Assembly, or the relevant county departments, the Disability Forum filed a case in the High Court of Kenya. They claimed that “by failing to subject the specific budgetary allocation to public participation and in particular consulting the Applicant/Petitioner there is grave likelihood of an infringement of constitutional rights of the Applicant/Petitioner.” This ongoing court case has yet to be resolved.

This story shows how uncertain progress on issues related to public resource governance can be. At first it appeared that the group of PLWD had won a clear victory when the County Assembly made the KSH 20 million allocation to support for this population. However, after the initial decision, the relevant county government stakeholders were unresponsive to the requests of the Disability Forum for participation in the process for determining how the funds would be spent. This story is still unfolding and there may now be openings emerging around this issue, likely due to the persistence of civil society groups.

This case demonstrates the learning curve for organizations like Kerio Center and Disability Forum. They needed to learn about the entry points for influencing government actions, including the limitations of formal channels of engagement in budget processes. Equally important are the broader lessons Kerio has learned about engaging citizens at the county level. At this level of government, formal CSOs often have limited capacity and credibility, due to their lack of a real constituency. At the same time, broader interest groups (e.g., PLWD, farmers, youths, women, etc.) are also often weakly organized, if at all, or may have partisan connections. Such connections are often necessary to have any influence with decision makers, but can lead to charges of bias as well. IBP and our partners have had to navigate this challenging civil society landscape in our efforts to support democratic and inclusive public engagement in budget processes. Moving forward, Kerio plans to continue to engage at the grassroots level to organize and engage youths and other constituencies on key budget issues, particularly those that directly impact their lives.

Developing this level of engagement by civil society in Kenya’s new counties is challenging and resource intensive. In most cases, the broader public has low levels of education and civic knowledge. Furthermore, most membership- or community-based organizations lack basic capacities for engaging in complicated budget processes. Thus, in order to build a strong grassroots base or presence in a county that would enhance their political legitimacy and increase their influence, CSOs like Kerio need to have long-term strategies that deepen and widen their engagement, and build capacity across diverse kinds of groups in the civil society ecosystem in each county.

This discussion highlights the long road to opening up budgets in a way that allows for real citizen engagement and influence, and ultimately to more inclusive budgets and more effective public services. Formal processes exist, but the incentives and capacities for ensuring that they are open, inclusive, and meaningful are uneven, and indeed, often absent. Furthermore, civil society engagement is a complicated proposition, with formal organizations and constituency groups facing a number of capacity and credibility challenges. IBP and its partners are experimenting with new ways of engaging citizens, focusing on issues and groups with wider public support, and navigating the political dynamics that go along with it. This work to democratize budget processes will take time, but the experience of Kerio and other partners demonstrates that there is no shortcut.

Further Reading

2016 International Budget Partnership Annual ReportThat’s How the Light Gets In”: Making Change in Closing Political Environments

This collection of essays — a companion to IBP’s 2016 Annual Report — examines evidence of how to pursue fiscal accountability in tougher political environments.
Download »

2016 International Budget Partnership Annual ReportInternational Budget Partnership 2016 Annual Report

The International Budget Partnership’s 2016 Annual Report documents our work over the past year, focusing on what we have achieved and what we have learned.
Download »

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