February 20th 2015: Towards Meaningful Public Participation in County Budgeting

Key Questions

1.     Which spaces exist for communities to participate in influencing county development plans?

2.     How can communities participate meaningfully in county planning process?

Constitutional Provisions

Article 1 (1) all sovereign power to the people of Kenya, to be exercised in accordance with the Constitution.

Article 10 Public participation is a key national value and principle of governance

Article 20 1 (a) Public participation, openness and accountability are key principles of public finance.

196 (1) A county assembly shall –

(a) Conduct its business in an open manner and hold its sittings and those of its committees in public, and;

(b) Facilitate public participation in the legislative and any other business of the assembly and its committees.

232 1 (d) involvement of the people in the process of policy making is outlined as one of the values and principles of the public service.


Counties and Devolution

1.     A recent World Bank Report indicates that only 10 counties reached the development-spending threshold of 30%.

2.     The average spending per county on development was 22%

3.     Kisumu County spent only 1% on development.

Why should the public participate in budgeting processes?

1.     The budget represents the public’s priorities.

2.     Counties receive 20% of national revenue expenditure, equivalent to 4% of GDP.  This has potential to significantly transform counties.

3.     Citizens need to engage in budgeting processes so that they can exercise meaningful oversight and hold leaders and officials accountable.

4.     The figures presented by the World Bank report call for citizens to engage more meaningfully to understand the challenges experienced by counties in ensuring at least 30% of funds are channelled towards development and are absorbed as required.

5.     The figures used by the World Bank, are released by the Controller of Budget after every three months of budget implementation.  They are therefore accessible to the public, and the public should therefore keep checking for them to inform citizen engagement in the budgeting process.

6.     It provides an opportunity for the public to influence county priorities. 

7.     Even in counties where development takes up 30% of the budget or more, citizen participation is essential to ensure that development funds are not spent on white elephants, or significant portions of it lost through corruption.

8.     Public participation also has to go beyond budget formulation to ensure that approved budget items are implemented as approved.

Public participation in MTEF/Sector Hearings: What are MTEF/ Sector Hearings and their purpose?

  1. Many counties have held or are in the process of holing their sector hearings which are also referred to as MTEF (Medium Term Expenditure Framework) hearings.
  2. MTEF/Sector hearings are designed to ensure that the government consults with the public prior to the release of the County Fiscal Strategy Paper (CSFP) in February.
  3. The CSFP stipulates the final allocation of financial resources across different sectors and ministries. For instance how much is allocated to health versus agriculture.
  4. During the hearings, the public should discuss and agree on the distribution of funds across sectors to be presented in the CSFP.  This is similar to a bidding process to determine which sectors will be prioritised by a county.

Where do MTEF / Sector Hearings fit within the broader budget cycle?

  1. The budget cycle begins with a circular in August, providing general guidance to sectors on how to collect information and how to determine priority areas. 
  2. The County Budget Review and Outlook Paper (CBROP) in November indicates the maximum amounts of money that can be allocated to various sectors; also known as provisional ceilings. 
  3. Sector proposals are then received between December and January.  The proposals indicate how the sector will use the resources allocated as per the provisional ceilings.  Sector proposals also give room for sectors to bid for more resources than what has been allocated.
  4. These are followed by Sector hearings in January and February for the public to give their input before being presented into the CSFP in February. The CSFP contains the final ceilings for each sector.
  5. In April, treasury then compiles budgets from the various sectors into full estimates, and forwards them to the county assembly for debate, amendment and approval.
  6. The public should therefore be on the lookout for different opportunities to participate in county budgets in the course of the year.

Challenges to effective participation:

Although self-governance by the people is a key aim of devolution, many counties are still challenged in ensuring effective participation of the public.  This is largely due to:

1.     Short notices to meetings

2.     Failure to avail documentation to be discussed in advance and in simplified language

3.     Failure to use a wide range of communication channels to notify the public.

4.     Lack of accessibility when forums are held in one venue (considered Central)

5.     Lack of dialogue in consultative forums

6.     Lack of feedback after consultative forums

7.     Failure to involve the public in other aspects of development e.g. implementation, monitoring, evaluation and auditing.

Example: Nairobi County MTEF /Sector Hearings

The County Government of Nairobi called the public to participate in MTEF/Sector Hearings from January 27th to February 5th

1.     One of the greatest challenges that has been addressed is accessibility to the forums, as these were decentralised to 85 wards. 

2.     However, notices to the forums were short

3.     Few channels for communication were utilised, with the newspaper as the main source of information.

4.     Moreover, documentation to be discussed was not been availed.

5.     Faced with a similar situation, residents of Kiambu sued the County Government for unconstitutional passing of the Kiambu Finance Act. 

6.     The Finance Act was nullified by the High Court, on grounds of being unconstitutional since it was not advertised widely, and the public was not given adequate notification.

Principles of Public Participation[1]

1.     Spaces must be created for citizens to participate at both national and county levels.

2.     Citizens must be engaged from the onset, and in setting out the terms of engagement.

3.     Public consultations should be open to all citizens and taxpayers without discrimination.

4.     Safeguards should be established to prevent consultative forums from being dominated by any one political group, organised interest or politician.

7.     Public consultations must have clear and specific purposes.

8.     The timelines and venues for public consultations should be made known at least two weeks in advance of the consultation.

9.     Public consultations must set aside dedicated time for feedback and questions.

10.  Public participation in planning and budget processes should occur at all stages in the process.

11.  The public must have access to all relevant plan and budget documents in a timely fashion.

12.  All plan and budget documents should contain an executive summary and narrative.

13.  Citizens should be able to provide input into public consultations through direct participation, through representatives and through written comments.

14.  There should be a feedback mechanism so that citizens know their input was considered.

Initiatives that counties have to improve communication between counties and citizens:

1.     Kisumu 21142 SMS platform that operates in both Swahili and English.  Citizens are required to register their names on the SMS application as a way of participating in county affairs[2].

2.     Invitations to the public to submit public memoranda.


1.     IBP (2015) Summary of the role of MTEF /Sector Hearings in budget processes http://internationalbudget.org/wp-content/uploads/Sector-Hearings-Role-in-Budget-Process.pdf

2.     Kiambu Finance Act ruling http://ilawkenya.com/devolution/court-strikes-down-kiambu-county-finance-act-for-lack-of-public-participation/#.VOMIPPmUfuI

3.     World Bank Group (2014) Decision Time: Spend more or spend smart?: Kenya Public Expenditure Review http://www.tralac.org/images/docs/6963/kenya-public-expenditure-review-dec-2014decision-time.pdf

4.     Republic of Kenya (2014) Office of the Controller of Budgets, County Governments Annual budget implementation review report: FY 2013/2014 file:///C:/Users/Joan/Downloads/cbirr%20annual%202013-2014.pdf

5.     For further resources and information on budgets and public participation, you can contact, International Budgeting Partnership (IBP) Kenya on email: ibpkenya@gmail.com of the Kenya Dialogues Project (KDP) kdp@sidint.org


[1] IBP Kenya (2014) County Budget and Economic Forums (CBEF) and public participation in Kenya: A synthesis of case studies from five counties.