A key promise and gain of Kenya's Constitution is that of Public Participation. The law requires that the public (people and their institutions of self organization) have a right to to access all public information and be consulted on all matters of public policy. But how easy is it to achieve this requirement.
At the onset it is important to acknowledge that participation is both in the National Government and County Government levels. Infact even the Judiciary should facilitate public participation in its work. In my work with various actors on public participation I have come to appreciate the complexity of making it a reality. questions such as what is participation? when can one determine that there is participation? and quality participation? whose view determines the effectiveness, the public or the government?
At this time when various state and non state actors are grappling with how to structure participation a few thoughts may be worth sharing.
1. There is need to appreciate the changed context of public participation. Before it was based on Ministry of Local Government guidelines, now it is in the constitution and the law. It is mandatory and will be enforced. A case in point is the recent judgement on the Kiambu County Finance Act 2013 that was nullified for lack of public participation in the process of its preparation.
2. There is need for an effective framework for ensuring that there is sufficient and effective public participation. The frameworks should be easy to access and use in terms of time, location and cost. While there may be value in making a law on the same in each county, basic administrative guidelines that apply what the Part VIII of County Government Act, 2012, Section 207 of the Public Finance Management Act 2012 and the schedules of the Urban Areas and Cities Act, 2011 have already provided for.
3. Planning and Budgeting for public participation is equally important. This should be based on the above framework to ensure coordination. Adhoc and disjointed engagement will lead to public fatigue and wastetage of resources.
4. Access to Information, Public Communication and Civic Education efforts must be tied to the participation framework. Participation is futile without proper information, that is communicated timely and an in an easy to understand format and that the public has capacity to interprate.
5. The governor is required to report on participation by section 92 of the County Government Act. But how shall s/he be able to do so? Shall it be on number of forums organized, number of petitions made or the value added to the process. number of opportunities created for participation is important but what we need to know is what is the effect of such participation on the process. On quality of service? on Accountability and control of corruption? on equity measures? on allocative and spending efficiency? and on cost recovery.
That said, this first five years of devolved government are an experimentation stage. There will false starts, mistakes, successes and great stories. All this should be told and documented.
all said, are we participating in building our country?