The budget making process is one interesting topic. Numerous publications have been done on it since Kenya came under the new constitutional dispensation in 2010. The constitution, by creating 47 counties and one cog of the central government, also brought upon Kenyans, 48 county budgets. The sure win for Kenyans was towards equitable distribution of resources to the Nation.
While emphasising the importance of the budget in the lives of citizens and value system of a leadership, Joe Bidden, the Vice President of United States of America under the Obama administration quipped, “don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
The National budget for financial year 2017/2018 is already out. It was uncharacteristically read earlier than the normative June date because of the upcoming elections on 8th August 2017. You realise that our members of Parliament and those of the County Assembly shall relinquish their seats to prepare for the polls. Noting their role in preparations of a budget, it is proper to undertake the duties of the budget pretty early.
A number of civil societies, the media, the opposition, Church leaders and some members of the Kenyan Government have voiced their concerns on the direction financial Management is taking in the country. These voices are not limited to the National Government; the Counties too have been caught up in the mess. The plunder of resources and rampant corruption is becoming a norm in the Nation.
In this article, we look at the design of Mombasa County Budget estimates 2017/2018 and whether it creates opportunities for social audit and requisite scrutiny to tame rampant corruption.
Where is Citizen Participation?
Article 201 of the Constitution of Kenya provides for the principles of running public finance. It requires openness and accountability, including public participation in financial matters.
The public, therefore, have a role to play in budget making route. The institutions charged with budget making such as the county executive committees and the County Assembly, have an obligation to ensure the public participates in budget making. There are further numerous specific requirements by the Constitution of Kenya and the Public Finance Management Act for citizen inclusion.
Members of the public can participate at different levels of the process for example, at the making of the budget policy statements, county fiscal strategy paper and when the budget estimates are released. Similarly, they have an opportunity to participate when a circular on the budget process for the following year is being issued.
The government, in this case, counties, are required to call for public hearings where the members of the public can present their priorities and needs to inform the budget for a particular year. The hearings can be effective if the public is well informed and given the requisite information in good time, so that they make substantive contributions. Citizens can also demand for information under Art.35 of the Constitution on access to information.
It is my point that the participation of the people ought not to be a sentimental exercise without yield. The final budget document upon assent by the Governor, in substance and implementation, should reflect the aspirations of the citizens in the particular counties. That is when you recognize the right of communities to manage their own affairs and in furthering their development.
Those who follow the former Arizona Governor, Jane D. Hull know her emphasis on a complete budget. She stated, ‘when completed, the budget must provide the services we have promised to our constituents.’
The Case of Mombasa County:
As noted earlier, the counties began this year’s exercise rather early. On 6th April therefore, the County Assembly of Mombasa presented to the Public the Mombasa Budget estimates for FY 2017/2018 at Tononoka Social Hall.
It should be emphasised that the budget estimates presented by the county Assembly were a product of the Executive. It had undergone the proposal of a spending plan led by the County Executive and views of the people incorporated. The Assembly was thus obliging to the requirement of Articles 174, 196 and 201 of the Constitution of Kenya. The articles oblige them to include the citizens in the processes.
Compared to the course taken last year, the Assembly made plausible progress in the way the forum was convened and document shared. It offered the notice two weeks ahead of the exercise as opposed to last year’s 3 days’ notice. This time, the document was availed two weeks earlier albeit at the County’s website. In 2016, the estimates were offered right at the forum. It was ridiculous how Wanjiku (informal reference to a Kenyan), was expected to contribute effectively in a discourse of a budget of over 9 Billion presented that very minute.
This year, there were commendable actions by stakeholders. Upon receipt of the document, proactive members of the Public and civil societies downloaded the document from website, perused and shared its contents with others at ward levels. It was commendable effort to ensure that the public had a timely glimpse of their budget.
However, it is noteworthy that in a county like Mombasa, not everyone enjoys the benefits of browsing the internet. Thus, for those who made efforts to get the document printed in hard copy and had it distributed, certainly went out of their way to do justice to the process.
Mombasa is an expansive county just like many others in Kenya, it has a population of over one Million. Each of such Governemnt processes ought to be done at Ward level to increase the quality and quantity of views. Such is a sure way devolution will make sense to those living in far flung areas like Donga Unuse and Mwakirunge.
It should be clear that addressing approximately 200 residents at one central point in the county does not reflect proper representation of the County.
On the Content of the document:
An online dictionary defines a budget as an estimate, often itemized, of expected income and expense for a given period in the future. Four aspects are noteworthy in the definition: items, expected income commonly termed as revenue, expenditure, and period of time.
County Revenue: The Mombasa County budget 2017/2018 estimates an expenditure of 9.9 Billion in the next financial year. They are itemised albeit with challenges as shall be revealed. The County failed to indicate the sources of revenue in the estimates.
There is no breakdown on how much the county expects to receive from the national government as well as its target for local revenue collection. It should have been prudent for the county to provide information on how it intends to accomplish the same.
While presenting the estimates, the question on sources of revenue arose. The representative of the County Assembly stated that the information was contained in Annual Development Plan. He went ahead to state that there was no need to reprint the same into the budget. It sounded wrong because a budget ought to be complete and citizens should be accorded an opportunity to discuss all aspects including the expected revenue. It is foolhardy to debate on a matter as critical as expenditure if disclosure is that limited.
It would been interesting to establish, for instance whether the target set for local revenue collection is realistic, noting that the county has consistently missed out on its local revenue collection target that has stalled development projects.
Inadequate information: With limited resources, any budget should make decisions on how the funds are distributed. Good practice demands that adequate information about the county’s priorities is provided.
It is never enough to bungle tables in the document without an elucidating narrative to it. There is need for the county to provide data linking the tables and the narrative.
Priorities: Every county sets its priorities in its numerous plans, specifically, the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP). Mombasa County preferred Health, Finance and Economic Planning, Transport and Infrastructure and Education and Children’s Services. Expenditures to such plans are often advantaged. It is noted that the areas of priority got worthy allocations.
However, those priority areas are not inscribed on stone. Water is an essential commodity in the lives of every person. Early this year, we witnessed animals and human beings succumbing to drought in Kenya. Mombasa recorded acute shortage of water during the time. Many families faced waterborne diseases. The matter was raised at the platform and at earlier stages of the process. Water distribution got equal allocation to bursary for secondary and College students which is a primary role of the Central Government.
If at all the County listened to the voices and concerns of the people, water ought to have been included as a priority area and allocation improved.
Programmes and Sub-Programmes: The programmes and sub-programmes were categorized on a very broad level. The document did not break them down to sub-programme, denying the users valuable information in understanding what specifically are the county plans across all the departments.
The use of clauses like “Acquisition on Non-Financial Assets,” confuses the people more. The language of the budget owned by Wanjiku ought to be understood by Wanjiku. To use such difficult economic phrases while failing to share proper indicators for them makes it difficult to embrace.
Ward Development Projects: The projects marked for implementation by the county were not clearly elucidated in the budget estimates. In the last financial year, projects have always been set at ward levels. It made it easy for Wanjiku to follow right from the process of formulation of the budget to implementation.
The law requires that budget formulation to happen, not just at sector levels but also to the lowest administrative level. Whenever views are collected there-from, it is justifiable that they know whether such views are incorporated in the budget and finally implemented.
It is therefore important that the County provides an annex with ward level projects data. This is prudent in establishing whether the county has allocated the available resources equitably as well as determining whether the proposed projects address the specific needs of the people in that ward.
Public Participation: Mombasa County did not budget for funds to conduct public participation and sensitize the residents of the counties of various Government issues. It was noted that the county Government comprising of the Executive and the Assembly has scheduled a number of legislations to pass. Such and other county plans need to undergo public participation.
The very principles of devolution, the Fourth Schedule of the constitution assigns counties the role of ensuring community participation in governance. These functions require funds to conduct. The county should budget for them in some way, and the clarity of the same ought to be easily noted. Public Participation was only been mentioned once under the governor’s office as an indicator of increased service delivery and good governance.
Ceilings: In the same budget estimates, the County Assembly busted the CRA ceilings by Ksh. 200 million. They baptised some items as non-ceiling items. Curiously the items include mortgage and car loans. Such practices paint a dark picture to the persons running the institutions which are required to be of honour under chapter 6 of the Constitution of Kenya.
Availability of Budget Documents: Essentially, the Budget Estimates should be linked to the County Fiscal Strategy Paper and the Annual Development Plan. The law requires that the county budget be based on county plans and the priorities in the County Integrated Development Plan and Annual Development Plan. None of the documents were availed to citizens even online. As such, it denied the people of the County, an opportunity to peruse the document well.
Duplication of national government functions: Duplication reduces the amount of money available to fulfil county functions. Generally, the budget proposal 2017/18 contains items that are under the county functions as captured in Schedule 4 of the Constitution. For example, under education counties are needed to cater for ECD and polytechnics. Primary, secondary and university education is premised to National government.
However, the county government propose to undertake various programmes at secondary school level including disbursing a bursary fund to secondary school students.
In conclusion, there were some very good points noted in the content of the Mombasa Budget estimates by the county Government of Mombasa. It is commendable of the county to provide detailed information on staff costs, including salaries and benefits of workers by department with the job group and individual positions. It helps understand what share of each ministry’s spending goes to wages versus other costs. Moreover, it is useful to know what kind of workers each ministry is employing to understand how much of public spending is going to service delivery, how much to administration, and how much to other types of support services.
The County provided a summary table with breakdown of the recurrent and development expenditure for each department. It also recognizes the importance of having an emergency fund to cover any disasters that are risk to human existence and environment.
Finally, while progress is made in some aspects, it is important for the leadership in both National and counties to realize that the Constitution 2010 elevated the stature of budgets in Kenya to capture aspirations of Kenyans. I borrow from Jacob Lew, the 76th United States Secretary of the Treasury, serving from 2013 to 2017 who averred that a budget is not just a collection of numbers but an expression of our values and aspirations.
BY ZEDDY ADIKA
This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 4, Issue 3 of April 21st 2017
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