By Ponciano Odongo
The Treasury releases over Ksh300 billion annually to the 47 counties for recurrent expenditure and development.
The budget-making process precedes the allocations. At some stage, members of the public are involved. The 2010 Kenya constitution makes provisions for public participation in the budget-making process to ensure taxpayers’ priorities are reflected in the final budgets. This implies that Kenyans have an eminent say on the funds spent at all levels of government — both county and national. At the county level — with specific example of Kajiado County — locals get s maiden opportunity at ward level to ensure their opinions, views and needs are reflected on development matters.
Many locals agree that the idea of devolution meant well, except for the less successful stories in terms of the development funds in most devolved units.
In Kajiado County, ward development funds form a success story that locals need to take pride in. Most counties have not embraced this, an area in which Kajiado County has excelled. This has seen county assemblies benchmark with the Kajiado County Assembly.
On several occasions, I have witnessed counties benchmarking at Kajiado County Assembly and openly wondered how this came to be. The secret is in the legislation, a role pegged on the County Assembly and indeed a huge score for the leadership under the second serving Speaker, Johnson Osoi.
Most County governments lack creativity and operate amorphously with their budget allocations. In some counties, the executive decides how to spend the entire development allocations — which are sadly used for political expedience to the chagrin of the locals and their elected representatives.
Kajiado people are a lucky lot as each ward is allocated Ksh30million equally for the sake of development. Locals get the opportunity to prioritize projects right at their ward. In retrospect, those who attend the public participation forums would know that allocating Ksh1million for a 10km road, or an even lower amount for certain projects, would leave them incomplete and force a situation in which more funds are sought in the following financial year. This has led to incomplete projects and/ or substandard works.
When I attended most of the latest round of public participation meetings for the financial year 2019/2020, it emerged that participants agree that for visible and better development, it is better to undertake projects to completion. Quality, rather than quantities, should be the winner.
In future, allocating the ward development fund to one or two projects per ward in a particular financial year will likely be a better option than spreading the money to the tens of projects that end up with substandard works or are left incomplete. There is a progressive change in how the people want development funds spent by going for fewer projects, but seeking quality results.
One experienced contactor argued in a recent public participation that it is high time contractors frankly rejected lowly-funded projects instead of offering poor results due to low payment. The contractor advised that considering their past experience, contractors must now abhor poorly-funded projects to avoid the shame of being blacklisted as a result of shoddily-done work.
It makes sense to have ward economies that finance quality weather proof roads, good health facilities, and suitable classrooms for children — viable projects that will change the lives of the people. Involving professionals early enough on workable developments will be another panacea that can over the years see monumental works that stand out for prudence.
One big challenge is the low uptake of public participation for various reasons, including limited or no information on how, where, and when to participate. The public must know that meaningful participation ensures their priorities are reflected in budgets. Sadly, political rivalry has over time been used to escalate the differences among the public, so as to attack elected leaders on any plan meant to grow the local economy or affect lives positively.
Finally, integrity is vital for any vision bearer. The joy of changing lives and leveraging micro-economies at village levels must also be a genuine concern in the heart of any serving leader.
Ponciano Odongo is a communication expert and senior public relations officer at Kajiado County Assembly. The opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the writer’s employer.