As a group of new leaders take the leadership positions in the counties, what should come to mind is how these leaders will engage the public in ensuring public participation in the budget making process. The County Government Act and the Public Finance Management Act, require public participation in matters of public finance. While there are numerous references to public participation in these laws, most are vague and contain no further guidance. However, there is one major exception to this, which is the very specific requirement that every county set up a County Budget and Economic Forum (CBEF).

The first devolved government took advantage of the public’s naivety and some county governments went on to constitute a CBEF that only had the governors cronies as members, while others did not constitute one at all. It is upon the CSOs in each county to put the government to task in constituting functional CBEFs that have the citizens’ interests. The PFM Act 2012 clearly outlines under article 137 that the County Budget and Economic Forum shall consist of the Governor of the county who shall be the chairperson; other members of the county executive committee; and a number of representatives, not being county public officers, equal to the number of executive committee members appointed by the Governor from persons nominated by organizations representing professionals, business, labor issues, women, persons with disabilities, the elderly and faith based groups at the county level.  The persons need to have been nominated by the said groups and not just appointed directly. This is so as to ensure that the citizens in the CBEF represent the citizens’ views and not their own interests.

The purpose of the Forum is to provide a means for consultation by the county government on preparation of county plans, the County Fiscal Strategy Paper and the Budget Review and Outlook Paper for the county; and matters relating to budgeting the economy and financial management at the county level. In addition to the above, consultations shall be in accordance with the consultation process provided in the law relating to county governments.

Despite this requirement in law, most of the counties have not been adhering to it. According to a research study by the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) which sort to establish the extent to which citizens have been engaged in the budget making process in Kenya through the CBEF structures in eleven counties, only one County – Kwale reported having an active and operational CBEF, there was also a mention of the existence of CBEF in 3 other counties namely, Elgeyo Markwet, Makueni and Migori Counties. Some counties have attempted to enact legislations on public participation; these include in addition to the three with CBEFs Kakamega, Nairobi, Nyeri and Busia County thus the extents to which these structures have been operationalized still remain low. Despite the Counties reporting to have CBEFs, the manner in which the structures are working is still in question. As reported in nearly all the counties, the manner in which CBEF officials operate and the interests they represent are questionable as they do not represent interest of any constituents. It also came out that most CBEFs exist on paper but do not do any work or play any role in the budget making process.

Article 1 of the Constitution states that all sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya. It further states that the people may exercise this sovereign power either directly or indirectly through their democratically elected representatives. The objects of devolution enshrined in the Constitution give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the state and in making decisions affecting them; and to recognize the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development. It is time, we as constituents rise and take up our role as enshrined in our constitution and other devolved policies. The CBEF is a good place to start with and with the backing of the law, the citizens ought to ensure that the operation CBEFs is as per the standards they require as the government officials appointed work for the people and not the other way round.