County leaders must be creative in public engagement


The recent protest by the matatu operators in Nairobi is one of the many by traders across the country against new levies introduced by County governments.

Almost all county governments have seen protests over increased business charges. Looking at the new levies one is worried about the level of taxation in this country. Are we facilitating entrepreneurship or are we out to milk it dry? I will leave that question for another day; my concern is on the level of public engagement.

The uniform excuse by the County government caught my attention. The common defense taken by the County governments has been that citizens failed to attend public forums organised to discuss the rates. Whereas they may have a point the county governments are missing the bigger picture. Leadership is about exercising authority on behalf of the masses. Blaming the high rates on the failed public forums is escapism. The fact that the forums failed to pick is a failure on the leadership.

As a stakeholder engagement professional I believe that the burden of getting people to the table lies with the organiser and not the invitees. In this case the county governments needed to go beyond the usual and find opportunities to engage. They needed to get a buy-in from the public but they failed. There are so many options they could have used but they chose to stick to public forums and newspaper announcements.

If they were deliberate to carry the public along, the county governments could have found wisdom in engaging people in churches and other places of worship where they are found regularly. Formally engaging trader associations like the matatu owners association, the chamber of commerce and the Saccos could have worked. Residents associations are also good forums for engaging the public. When he was the Finance Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta collected views from the public on the budget making process via social media. This offered an opportunity to Kenyans who prior to that had no access to the high level consultative meetings held in big hotels in the city.

It’s interesting that when looking for votes politicians use every opportunity where two or three are gathered including funerals to engage but couldn’t find any gathering when it came to deciding business levies. The point I am trying to make is that there are many opportunities to engage the public only if the governments cared to think beyond the box. Whereas they have the power to set the rates after seeking approval from county assemblies the governors must realise that they are leaders and the decisions they make affect those who elected them to office.

Leadership isn’t much about meeting legal obligations but addressing the concerns of those we lead and remaining connected to them. We are in the budget making process for the next financial year and the Governors and the National Treasury have another opportunity to engage us, will they stick to the norm or will someone think beyond the box?

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