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Nurture public participation in counties



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On July 11, last year, the World Population Day, the County Government of Nandi launched the Nandi County Family Planning Costed Implementation Plan 2018-2022, as the culmination of a year-long journey with residents and other partners.

The development and launch of the plan is steadily becoming a signature style of county governments: Participatory approach to decision- and policymaking. That is the exact reason why Kenya opted for the devolved model of government.

Article 174 of the Constitution cites, as one of the objects of devolution, giving powers of self-governance to the people and enhancing their participation in the exercise of State power and in making decisions that affect them.

The counties have done increasingly well in engaging the public in drawing up budgets and County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP).

The “County Public Participation Guidelines”, published in 2015 by the Ministry of Devolution and Planning in partnership with the Council of Governors, lists five broad benefits of public participation. Among them is better decisions.

Public participation ensures that development programmes and interventions address the needs and wishes of communities.

Technocrats may develop interventions that do not meet the needs of communities, contrary to Article 174(d) of the Constitution, which gives communities the right to manage their affairs and further their development.

But the top-down approach to decision making has, at times, failed spectacularly. The idea that 140 constituencies could have fish ponds under the Economic Stimulus Programme of 2010 is a good example.

This intervention was not subjected to public participation. If it were, communities in some places would have communicated different interventions to the programme suitable for their needs and way of life — say, water pans for their livestock in the case of pastoralist communities of northern Kenya.

Since 2013, county governments have made steady strides towards actualising public participation as the norm in management of public affairs.

A budget transparency study published by the International Budget Partnership shows that, as at last September, more county governments were publishing more documents to facilitate public participation in budget making than in 2015.

However, there is still plenty to be done, and implementing the County Public Participation Guidelines of 2015 is a good place to start.

Counties need to provide adequate notice of public participation events and use a mix of the most popular communication channels to inform citizens about them.

It is also important that they take up citizens’ proposals as much as possible. Where that is not possible, they need to give feedback, explaining why some of the proposals were not taken on board.

That will ensure that citizens are not discouraged from participating in the process in the future.

Public participation in decision making is the future, and county governments can lead the nation in the new governance paradigm that we took with the adoption of the current Constitution in 2010.

Ms Samba is the Kenya country director, at Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW). [email protected]