Counties lock citizens out of key decisions

Friday April 22 2016

Meru Governor and Council of Governors Chairman Peter Munya (front left), his deputy Salim Mvurya (on his left) together with other governors in a discussion after the third annual devolution conference at Meru National Polytechnic on April 21, 2016 evening. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Meru Governor and Council of Governors Chairman Peter Munya (front left), his deputy Salim Mvurya (on his left) together with other governors in a discussion after the third annual devolution conference at Meru National Polytechnic on April 21, 2016 evening. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KENNEDY KIMANTHI
By KENNEDY KIMANTHI
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County governments are not involving Kenyans in key decisions as envisioned by the Constitution.

The Constitution gives powers of self-governance to the people and seeks to enhance their participation in decisions that affect them.

This includes public finance and puts emphasis on transparency, accountability and public participation.

However, county governments have been put on the spot for failing to reach out to the people when making their decisions.

A recent survey by Twaweza East Africa released on March 15 indicates that even though most Kenyans support devolution, only two out of 10 citizens or 19 per cent participate in a meeting organised by the county government.

The survey taken between December 15, 2015 and January 2016 paints a bad picture of counties where executives and members of the assemblies also avoid scrutiny by the public.

Mr Victor Rateng of Twaweza East Africa said the support of citizens to devolution was not in doubt. “However, there is inadequate access to information on development by citizens,” he added.

Mr Rateng said close to half of the respondents (47 per cent) during the study said Saturday would be their preferred day participate in public forums.

“When development proposals are made available quickly and in simple formats, citizens can make quick decisions on issues their counties should address.

Citizens should also be given adequate time to reflect on the proposals so that they give well informed feedback,” he said.

He added: “Rushed participation common in most counties, denies citizens the opportunity to effectively participate in development of their areas.”

Mr Brezhnev Otieno, also of Twaweza said counties should make public opinion a key part of their activities.

“County governments must develop a mechanism through which the outcome of public participation is translated into the budget planning process. The process should be genuinely representative of diverse interests,” Mr Otieno said.

Governors have given several reasons why there is poor public participation in the decisions they make. Council of Governors legal affairs and human rights committee chairman Kivutha Kibwana said most counties are yet to develop policies and laws that should guide public participation.

The Makueni governor however said governments lay less emphasis on public participation because of “the robust civic education” which produces a “citizenry that is very aware” of what is happening.

Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya complained that in most cases, wananchi do not turn up for the public meetings even when they are invited.

Mr Mvurya who is also the council’s vice chairman said the demand for meals, fare and refreshment by those attending forums has virtually made it impossible to hold public meetings.

“There will be no quorum unless those attending are facilitated,” Mr Mvurya said.

Embu Majority Leader Andrew Musakwa  said they now set aside money for fare, meals and refreshments for those attending the public forums.

He however said the public would not be given anything to attend budget forums so that assemblies are not accused of bribing the public to approve their spending.

In Wajir, civil societies on Wednesday wrote to the finance executive Salah Adan protesting the short notice they have been given for a budget forum.

The county placed an advert in a local daily inviting them just two days before the meeting.

However, the meeting still went on at the Wajir Hilton Hotel according to information posted by County Government Press Service.