Amnesty Kenya community forum in Kilifi county

Review Kenya’s Public Finance Management Documents to Ensure Inclusion

As we acknowledge and recognize the efforts of all those who were involved in the constitutional-making process in one way or another, it’s important to pause and reflect on their impact. Their invaluable contributions gave birth to a progressive Constitution with provisions that would previously have been perceived as a dream. Public participation as a national value and principle has transformed our governance structures and promoted, to some extent, our laws and policies towards being people-centred.

In the context of Public Finance Management (PFM), almost every stage of the cycle requires public participation. The way participation ought to be conducted has been spelt out in legislation such as the County Government Act for counties and case laws (Robert N. Gakuru and 3 others v. Governor Kiambu County and 3 others), among others. That public participation is a process and not an event is now not in question.

For this article, the focus will be on the National Budget Estimates, which later translates to the Appropriation Act, allowing the government to allocate funds issued out of the Consolidated Fund to individual government departments, and the Finance Bill, which later becomes the basis upon which the government collects taxes from all Kenyan residents to fund the Budget. The budget cycle process is embedded in the Public Finance Management Act, which describes the procedures for both county and national governments.

From a perusal of the above-mentioned Bills and Laws, one can immediately appreciate the technical language as well as the complexity of the process. Important to note is that the Finance Act, once in operation, literally leaves no one behind. Once the taxes are imposed, each Kenyan resident, save for the gurus in tax avoidance, will feel the impact of the taxes. While Kenya generally enjoys a high literacy rate of over 80%, not everyone appreciates fiscal language. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) continue to engage communities to understand the impact of the budget cycle in their daily lives. However, this cause is budget intensive.

The government must ensure adequate access to information for all to enhance meaningful public participation in such an important annual piece of legislation. For instance, a hard copy of the Finance Bill from the government printer costs Kes 600. One wonders how many can afford a copy. Even after getting a copy of the Bill, it takes a prior understanding of the process for one to skim through and decide which provisions are favourable or otherwise. You must get the “correct” templates to make your submissions. After all these efforts, one wonders why the acceptance rate of recommendations remains low.

All the challenges described above are ordinarily faced by Kenyans who are able to access the internet, physically access government printers, and probably television, where they would follow the breakdown by mainstream media et al. What then happens to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), the marginalized and those of very low income not able to access the internet, TVs or the government printer? This is more so in the current context where some Kenyans are still grappling with reconstructing their lives after the recent flash floods destroyed everything they had.

Meanwhile, the national Public Participation Bill has yet to be passed. This means there is a lack of a proper framework for conducting the process at the national level, meaning only a few will be given an audience to present their views, most often as a collective of groups, professional associations, CSO consortiums, or the private sector.

What people need are simplified documents that can easily be understood and distributed for free to enable easy access. County submission points should be closer to the people to ensure everyone is able to make their written submissions and receive them at low or zero costs.

Zaina Kombo is Amnesty International Kenya Equality and Anti-Discrimination Campaign Manager and writes in her personal capacity. Email: [email protected]