Deliberating Budgets: How Public Deliberation Can Move Us Beyond the Public Participation Rhetoric

February 2016 | by Jason Lakin, Ph.D. and Mokeira Nyagaka

Over the past several years, Kenyans have engaged in a vibrant debate about the meaning of public participation in government decision-making, particularly with respect to the budget process. This debate has taken place amidst widespread disappointment with the quality of public participation as it is currently practiced at both national and county levels.

In this paper, the authors argue that the concept of public participation needs to be refined. They propose that the concept of public deliberation is more useful and, ultimately, offers more specific guidance for thinking about how the public engages with budgets. Drawing on the concept of deliberative democracy, the authors argue that it requires government to make proposals, justify those proposals, and create space for not just the proposals but the justifications to be debated. The proposals and justifications must be relevant and plausible, must be open to change, and must be based on broad concepts of public welfare, such as equity and fairness, and not reducible to self-interest.

The authors also investigate whether Kenya’s national and county budget documents produced since 2013 meet these standards and finds that in most cases they do not. Many of these documents are not readily available to the public, and those that are often lack basic descriptive information about the government’s proposals. Those that do have detailed descriptive information often lack relevant justifications for the decisions they contain. Where there has been an attempt to offer justifications for the decisions made, they are often too vague to actually explain these decisions.

The paper concludes by arguing that we should assess all government documents and government “participation” processes by the exacting standards of public deliberation, using existing laws to do so. The biggest impediment to public deliberation in Kenya today is not the absence of law, but the lack of sufficient demand from organized citizen groups for greater transparency and more serious deliberation in the budget process.


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Mokeira Nyagaka

Capacity Building and Learning Officer,

As the Capacity Building and Learning Officer at IBP Kenya (IBPK), Mokeira leads the team in developing, updating and facilitating training materials on the budget processes, budget analysis and participation in budgeting at the national and sub-national levels. Mokeira coordinates the monitoring and evaluation, learning and reporting of IBP Kenya’s work. She works closely with IBPK’s partners to develop their tools related to the work done in partnership with IBPK.

Prior to employment as full-time staff at IBPK, Mokeira worked as a consultant researching the adequacy of public justifications in budget documents in Kenya county governments. Mokeira transitioned to Research Analyst and Trainer at IBPK, a full-time staff position she held from 2016- 2019. In 2020, her role expanded to Capacity Building and Learning Officer.

Mokeira is passionate about developing content for CSOs, community budget champions, and the communities they support to improve their engagement with budgets. She is keen on content development that can be utilized by various audiences.

Mokeira is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She graduated with an LL. B and LL.M (public finance) from the University of Nairobi.


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