Dear Mombasa Residents,
Welcome to 2018. In this letter, I will take you on a journey down memory lane on issues of public participation on policy-making in Mombasa County. Let’s start by reviewing the relevant laws, regulations and policies on public participation. Later on we will check on challenges and best practices on the forums held in Mombasa between the years 2013 to 2017. This was the first term under devolution which was presided over by his excellence the Governor Ali Hassan Joho.
Legal provisions on public participation
Article one (1) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides that sovereignty belongs to the people of Kenya and this sovereignty is delegated to the elected representatives at the county and national levels. This means that when you participate in the deliberative policy making process, you are exercising your power through direct democracy. This is in its raw form similar to what was practiced in Athens in 5th Century BC.
Public Participation is a concept that was given prominence by the Constitution of Kenya 2010. It’s now a constitution requirement for all citizens to be part of public participation during the formulation, approval and oversight stages of public policy in Kenya.
Public participation is supported by various articles of law, apart from Article 1 which indicates that sovereignty belongs to the people, Article 174 allows you to enjoy powers of self-governance as you promote social and economic development in Mombasa County. Article 201 of the Constitution of Kenya makes it a right and not a privilege to have a say in matters of public finance in Mombasa County. This article calls for openness, transparency and accountability including public participation in management of public resources. This is key in ensuring that your government does not allocate resources to “white elephants” or projects which don’t reflect your real priorities.
The County Governments Act 2012, further elaborates on who should be part of a public participation forum. It points out that “the public” consists of all residents of Mombasa County; all rate payers of the city; resident civic organizations (non-state actors); private sector and labor organizations. In fact, even non-residents like me who happen to be temporary in Mombasa County should participate because we also make use of services.
Public participation can’t be complete without access to timely information, data, documents and other relevant information as provided by Section 87 of the County Governments Act 2012. It is essential that Mombasa County government make available all public policy documents in a timely manner. It will be unfair to give hundreds of pages of technical documents such as budget estimates and demand for immediate input. Even economists and public finance experts take a couple of days to understand those documents. Therefore, ask your county government of Mombasa to give you at least 7 days to consult, interrogate and peruse over those documents.
The other provisions made by Section 87 of County Government Act include: reasonable access to policy formulation, approval and implementing processes. For instance you should be allowed to sit in the citizen gallery at the county assembly where your elected and nominated Members of County Assembly (MCAs) debate on matters affecting you unless under circumstances envisioned under the Act or the standing orders.
Status of Public Participation in Mombasa County
There were a number of challenges such on access to information or data held by the state and short notice given by the state, that were reported by residents in terms of public participation. This culminated in a court case filed by the local non-state actors against the county government of Mombasa. The county refuted that it failed to involve the members of the public in its decision-making process in the urban renewal project. The Legal Advice Centre, Haki Yetu, Transparency International Kenya and Jack Maina were the petitioners in the case against County Government of Mombasa and its County Secretary. The judgement delivered by Judge P.J.O. Otieno on 23rd December, 2016 did not favor the petitioners. As a result, they proceeded to the Court of Appeal to challenge the judgement. As much as the petitioners lost the case, it became clear that one does not have to win court cases, even with a loss a statement is made that the public is monitoring the governance processes at the county level.
In conclusion, I recommend that you take a step and make sure your voice is heard at the decision-making table. It all starts with demanding to have unrestricted access to public policy documents. Take your time to interrogate them carefully to find out whether they reflect your priorities. I am making an assumption that you already know how you want your taxes to be spent. Rank your priorities and make them known by policy makers. You can make both oral and written presentations. After participating, it is essential that you make a follow-up and demand for feedback in the absence of which the entire process might be labelled rubber stamping and chasing after the wind.
Our next article will take a look at the various timelines on the County budgeting process focusing on how, when and where to participate in policy formulating process.
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Article by Geoffrey Kerosi