By ZEDEKIAH ADIKA
(Advocate for Kituo Cha Sheria and chair of Coast Civil Society Reference Group)
Treasury cabinet secretary Ambassador Ukur Yattani Kanacho unveiled a budget of Sh2.73 trillion on 11th June 2020 out of which Sh369.9 billion was allocated to the 47 counties.
The six Coast regions will take home over Sh37.9 billion with Kilifi scooping the lion’s share – almost Sh10 billion.
Mombasa, on the other hand, has projected an expenditure of Sh14.6 billion with Sh5 billion expected from the depleted local sources to supplement the Sh7 billion from national government and over Sh2 billion from grants.
Actually, since the dawn of the devolved system’s economy, the region (six counties) has sunk over Sh216 billion more on paper than physical (on the ground).
With such sum, you would envisage the lives of the coastal people glowing positive energy or output but this remains a mirage in the current order of events.
There have been a number of vital challenges in origination of these budgets, but the end products portend little for the common man.
Despite laboring the burden of taxation, they remain vulnerable and at risk of death from hunger, with case in point, the Covid 19 pandemic and the subsequent begging bowl by both national and county governments.
State cannot feed its citizens for a week, notwithstanding the fact that the citizenry has paid taxes all their lives and the hope of a salvaging vision to put the projected amount to proper use for the good of the people are hollow.
The hoi polloi has the law on their side although the Constitution of Kenya is replete with articles requiring citizen voices in budget making process.
Right from article 1, 10, 174, 201 and more of the Constitution, the very spirit and letter is visited in the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) 2012, County Government Act 2012, and Access to Information Act 2016, related statutes, case law and policies.
All these indicate that the state is mandated to enable its citizens to participate and have a say to their welfare and development activities.
The devolution of power and resources was envisaged to foresee the trickling down effect with the primary focus being the Kenyans at the periphery.
This is the hallmark of decentralization as anticipated under Chapter Eleven of the Constitution and aligned statutes, that is, power and resources should be in the hands of the people.
The provisions under these laws outline institutional framework and guidelines under which citizen engagement ought to be conducted.
For budget process to enjoy the legitimacy of the people there must be proactive County Executive Committee, vigilant County Assembly, functional County Budget Economic Forum, well-designed Sector forums, facilitated County Administration units where subcounty and ward administrators reside.
As it is, these institutions require urgent oiling of essential political will to drive the people’s agenda home which we lack in this aspect.
The coastal counties have proceeded to design budget documents in blatant disregard of these institutional frameworks.
For instance, Mombasa proceeded to prepare upcoming budget without a complete functional County Executive Committee (CEC) as par Section 129 of the Public Finance Management Act that requires the tabling of budget estimates before a fully-fledged CEC defined under article 179 of the Constitution.
More disturbing is the fact that since 2017, the County has never found it necessary to establish the County Budget and Economic Forum.
This is despite the statutory obligation to establish the institution 30 days upon the formation of the CEC. Therefore, the county formulated five-year plan, the CIDP, without such a fundamental institution.
Access to information is another key factor wanting in the counties though Article 35 of the Constitution and provisions under the Access to Information Act require state to be proactive in availing the same to the citizenry.
The PFMA goes ahead to set dates and procedures of budget making at the county budget through Sections 125 and 126 of the Act are notable examples.
They outline the formulation, approval, implementation and evaluation of a county budget. These processes require citizen voice, utmost transparency and in sync content.
Currently, the requirements remain in the book and the implementers of the law are rudely reluctant to facilitate Wanjiku’s role in budget making process.
Despite rushing to conjure public forums, what happens in those platforms, is way below the threshold of public involvement.
This financial year illustrates; in the advent of the pandemic, you would expect optimum utilization of online platforms especially social media to keep the people well-informed on every aspect of tackling the issue.
Unfortunately, the information within the confines of the Coast Civil Society Reference group paints a bleak picture of this.
Kituo Cha Sheria conducted an on-desk research to establish the extent to which information is captured in the websites of the coastal counties between May 22, 2020 and June 12, 2020.
Lamu has no budget document online for this financial year while Mombasa County Assembly updated their website on 28th May, 2020 after the push by the Coast Civil Society Network.
This happened under the governance thematic area, notably though, long after the Budget estimates were passed by the Executive and tabled at the Assembly.
The lobby comprising of over 30 organizations represented by Lenggo, LSK Mombasa, Kituo Cha Sheria and Catholic for Peace held a meeting with the chair of the Finance Committee, County Secretary and the County Executive Committee member for finance on 28thMay, 2020.
The documents were subsequently uploaded and as a result, the lobby sought for more time extending the original submission’s deadline from 2nd June, 2020 to 10th June. 2020. Kwale County had neither called for the submissions nor provided for modalities of engagement on the Budget estimates with the documents missing from its website.
The counties of Kilifi, Taita Taveta and Tana River are not pleasantly placed either with the sum total of documents uploaded at their Executive or Assembly websites not supporting comprehensive analysis and issuance of sublime submissions.
The counties’ disregard to the fundamental process of budget making loathes at the dream of devolution with little evidence indication to buoy people’s participation.
In Mombasa, the governance lobby unit had to seek an appointment with the Speaker of County Assembly of Mombasa to push for copies to be provided to every ward.
This is after the Speaker wrote a letter calling Assembly back to session as the Waheshimiwas had gone home and forgot their central duties of oversight, approval of budget policies, representation and legislation.
Civil society had to go on social media to call them out before resumption to duty evincing a clear manifestation of a house out of touch with reality and unworthy of resources invested on them.
From this, the weaknesses of County Assemblies are evident and self-expressive with their capacity to capture the moment and rise to occasion uninspiring.
They are held captive right from their political parties to the executive’s total control of their operations.
In the advent of the masculinity of the Assemblies in both national and county level the poor and the vulnerable ‘cannot breathe’ (May George Floyd’s soul rest in peace).
Covid 19 has made matters worse and unbearable as every county takes a backseat in the excuse of the anti-gathering regulations.
The executives in these counties formulated the budget proposals on their own terms and standards and yet due to Covid 19; the voices of the people needed more space for the following three reasons:
One, ideally the budget making process begun in August 2019 when the budget circular was due for release and by September, the Annual Development Plan 2020/2021 was formulated and approved.
Allow me to say, in instances where this happened, this plan ought to guide the development plans in the upcoming Financial Year. However, the circumstances of its creation were oblivious of the pandemic which struck us early this year (March 13, 2020).
We will have to live with the consequences of the same for the next FY. Public input to the Budget Estimates was thus necessary to review development priorities and capture new normal.
Second, there is a dire need to revive economy and to boost businesses in the road to recovery. We missed an opportunity for a vibrant discourse towards resumption of growth.
Third, the mode of engagement has significantly changed with Covid 19. New ideas are emanating albeit with gaps. Social media which is a gem for the youth doesn’t work for the elderly.
Proactively, the Counties had a responsibility to seek innovative ways to touch the Citizenry. May be a blend of strategies would work. It was not the time to completely shut voices. State chose the latter.
The directive by the Ministry of transport requiring all cargo be loaded to the dreaded ‘snake’, Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), has led to fundamental economic downturn in the region.
All families that relied on clearing and forwarding firms and truck chain businesses remain under economic oblivion; obviously at the detriment of the region.
While the above point to a bleak future, the road towards change is clear and eminent. The vigilance of the populace remains the sole fulcrum to drive change.
It is on this backdrop that Kituo Cha Sheria and other likeminded organizations under the umbrella of Coast Civil Society Reference Group are on the road to reinvigorate the voices of the masses to capture their space.
The lobby will rope in key sectors like business community; boda boda, tuk tuk operators, and matatu Sector; traders (small scale and large scale) all in their numbers for a just course.
We will knock at the doors of the professional clusters like the Law society of Kenya, teachers, health workers, engineers and unions in the Coast region to push state.
The religious community of all creeds must join the mission because the cancer of State Capture (lethargy in public service) and barefaced corruption must be discarded.
Coronavirus or not, the right to involvement of people and institutional growth must begin in earnest.