By Betty Maina
As counties come up with legislation for public participation, they should seek to integrate public participation in all activities that call for this kind of engagement with the public. This approach will encourage adherence without excuses. The establishment of an institution in the Counties, to manage Public Participation, should be carried out with care to ensure that it is not problematic as the officer in charge will not be able to force county executives to comply with the regulations. Such an office should be responsible for coordination of public participation while each arm or department of the government should take care of the implementation aspects since they have the expertise in that particular area. The department should also carry out stakeholder mapping and engagement and County laws should outline the rules of engagement during the process.
Public participation also has to be structured in such a way that the right stakeholders are invited to meetings for a given issue. A guiding principle of public participation is that it should provide meaningful information in a way that the targeted individuals and groups understand and should involve mutual consultation. To target the right stakeholders, it is important to do a stakeholder mapping and analysis for more focussed discussions and qualitative public participation.
As to the question, how much public participation is enough? In the Kiambu Case, Robert N. Gakuru & Others v Governor Kiambu County & 3 others 2014, Justice Odunga set out the principle of whatever is reasonable and further ruled that the exercise should not be a mere formality and Counties should take into account notice periods, frequency, feedback mechanisms, reasonable periods for public participation for policy and for legal matters, and the form or mode of public participation.
County Governments still need to work on appropriate response times for adequate public participation. So far, some counties have been posting draft legislation to their websites hours before stakeholder engagement meetings or distributing bulky legislation in meetings and thereafter requiring feedback by the end of the meeting. This has led to the enactment of laws without meaningful engagement.
Counties also need to capitalise on already existing platforms present in the region which present them with an easy opportunity to reach the masses. Each case is unique and in some Counties, one finds well established village structures, in another women’s groups are predominant. The framework therefore should change from county to county. By identifying the most appropriate public participation approaches, counties will reach out to the right stakeholders. A good example is Murang’a county which has well established cooperative structures and leverages on them to reach the people. It is not a matter of replicating what the neighbouring county is doing but of finding out what works for a given county. Still, Identifying stakeholders is not enough. Counties need a capacity building strategy to empower stakeholders to meaningfully participate in the process and especially on the budget processes.
Specific legislative requirements include seeking the views of the public when preparing the fiscal strategy papers, the budget processes, the outlook paper for the county as provided for the Public Finance Management Act Section 125. The private sector is particularly interested in dialogue during these processes as they are directly affected by their outcomes. The Public Finance Management Act calls for the establishment of a County Budget and Economic Forums (CBEF) in each and every county for consultation on public financial management issues. It is important for these forums which are made up of non governmental employees to understand that their principal role is to convene public consultations, rather than to represent the public. The CBEF gives private sector leeway to have a say and a platform to enable participants to leverage on the financial resources of their county and push the government for good governance. Very few Counties have established and operational CBEF forums to date.
KAM has also been working together with other Business Membership Organisations (BMOs) to form coalitions at county levels which speak with one voice to the county government. These BMO coalitions in turn have been instrumental in organising Governor Roundtables where they have presented their ideas for growing the Counties’ economies and improving the environment for doing business but allows for more engagement at a decision making level.
The public participation process should also be regularly reviewed to address any challenges and constraints and to ensure that the process remains useful so that stakeholders feel that their concerns are taken into account and will be committed to participate more in future.
(The writer is the chief executive of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and can be reached on [email protected])