The chairpersons of constitutional commissions and holders of independent offices (CC and IOs) in October last year held their seventh annual conference in Meru County. Fittingly, the theme was, “Public Participation: Pathway to Sustainable Development”.
In the spirit of the new constitutional order, public participation has been given prominence and it is a requirement that all conduct of public affairs — whether law-making, decision-making or implementation of government projects — have the input of the public. The import of public participation is based on the foundation that the people of Kenya have sovereign power, which they have delegated to state actors at the national and county levels.
Public participation is a tool that ensures the transparency of government actions and containment of corruption. The enactment of the Access to Information Act 2016 was a critical step towards enabling citizens to fully enjoy their right to information and entrench accountability in public affairs.
In his desire to make the government accountable and tackle the runaway corruption, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued Executive Order No. 2 of 2018, directing public entities to, from July 1, maintain and continuously update and publicise complete information of all tenders awarded.
Subsequently, the Public Procurement Information Portal — an online platform for the publication of contract awards and tender notices by public bodies — was set up to consolidate and upload such information on a monthly basis. More than 7,000 tenders and 1,500 contracts worth Sh50 billion awarded to 4,200 suppliers have been posted to enhance transparency in the public procurement of goods and services.
The epidemic of corruption has not only afflicted the national government, but also county governments. This is why access to information is a first step to fighting it. Perhaps, it is fitting to mention the exemplary public participation model and transparency being championed by the Makueni County government in making the devolution dream a reality.
Recently, four envoys from the Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark made particular mention of the county government’s model of public participation in its engagements with citizens. The ambassadors specifically praised the county for its policy of involving residents in law making, decision making and project identification, implementation and monitoring.
Although I had heard about the devolution magic that is Makueni, the media reports about the envoys’ observations prompted me to revisit the county’s website. In there, I saw a transparent and accountable devolved unit backing its talk with concrete actions!
Makueni has created the County Projects Management System, which tracks budget and performance data for over 1,600 programmes and projects from the 30 wards implemented since the 2013/14 Financial Year as it works towards realising its Vision 2025.
In addition to allowing the tracking of the projects being implemented by the county, it entrenches transparency and accountability by providing public access to information on government spending.
From the website, it is clear that Governor Kivutha Kibwana and his government are not doing anything extraordinary; they are attempting to breathe life into the Constitution. And since most of the other counties are doing a lousy job of making devolution a reality, we have Prof Kibwana to thank for keeping our collective hope alive.
However, with all this information made available through public participation forums, the procurement portal and the websites of public entities, the question arises as to how the public consumes such content to further the cause of civilian oversight of state affairs.
The provision of information must not be an end in itself, but a means to an informed citizenry better equipped to demand accountability and improved governance of public resources and institutions. That is a key expectation of the access to information law: That citizens will actively seek out information from public offices in their quest to advance the enjoyment of their rights and enforce accountability.
Similarly, public entities have the duty to disclose the information needed by the citizenry without necessarily waiting for it to be requested for.
Mr Cheboi is a senior manager, advocacy and communications, at the Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman). [email protected]