Without public participation, budget transparency and oversight nothing will work post-election
The Kenya Budget Transparency Survey 2021 comes at just the right time. With elections debates in high gear, it educates voters trying to filter the many promises being offered. It also offers important tips for those seeking to govern the next set of national and county administrations.
A few months before the 2017 General Elections I accepted an invitation to brief Jubilee manifesto writers how to curb corruption should Kenyan voters allow them a second term. I presented and after a few minutes of awkward silence, the discussion was politely deferred. I left the room without a discussion to my central argument. The corrupt relationship between suppliers, budget-holders, treasury mandarins and legislators was so tight, they could have been in one SMS group.
Even with this, Jaindi Kisero’s Wednesday column on budgeted corruption this week disturbed me. Using the official External Debt Register, he lists several catastrophes, the Jubilee Administration has called projects. They include the Galana-Kulalu food security scheme (Shs8.3b), Itare dam (Shs35.9b), Lake Turkana windpower project (Shs18b), KETRACO (Shs10b) and the Kimwarer and Arror dams (Shs71b). Collectively, they have conservatively cost us Sh143 billion. Bound by contracts, we will be paying foreign creditors for the next thirteen years or more with no sign of water, electricity, or grain.
Sh143 billion is more than the 2022/2023 budget allocation to realise our right to water. It is five times more than the housing budget and ten times the proposed investment in the manufacturing sector. It is also third of the allocation to all county governments and a fifth of what we need to keep our children in school.
It is these figures that earns Kenya the mediocre ranking of 53 out of 120 countries in the global International Budget Partnership Kenya annual survey. The survey assesses the quality of public participation, budget transparency and oversight. It ranks Kenya sixth behind the leader of the African pack, South Africa. Both its findings and recommendations are essential reading for voters and candidates in the last 44 days to polling day.
In just two months, the next set of national and county governments will face a debt distressed and defaulting economy too weak to absorb the shocks of climate change and the pandemic. The cost of living will rise as the economy and national treasury coffers shrink. Fiscal austerity and economy kidogo-isation will lead to louder demands for more accountability, budget transparency and decisive anti-corruption action by Kenyans. Now dependent on sovereign credit ratings, IMF prescriptions and external financing, external pressures for better public participation, budget transparency and oversight will also increase. Failure to deliver this, and we can expect a macro-economic meltdown and more suicides, distress related crimes, tax evasion and public protests.
We must demand now that all candidates have clear plans towards involving people in the transparent allocation and protection of public budgets from predators and wastage. Can they commit to auditing and reducing the wage bill and bench-marking allowances, which, in some cases have reached 90 per cent of the county budgets?
Can they offer practical strategies that ensure that levies and taxes find their way into county-controlled bank accounts and not state officers’ pockets? The Council of Governors and Senate must prepare to compel the national treasury to prioritise regular disbursements to county governments not the crumbs after national ministries, departments and agencies have been fed. The depressing stories of pending bills and the anguish of suppliers must come to an end.
The current ChambuaUongozi public debates are the first accountability moments for candidates to interact with their future employers. May voters and candidates borrow an ounce of courage from late Goldenberg scandal whistle-blower David Munyakei. Born in Lang’ata Women’s Prison to a prison warder in 1968, his birthday is celebrated the day before International Whistle-blower Day on 22 June.
Happy posthumous birthday David. May you also inspire Kenyans in this critical moment. Let’s all only elect state officers who commit to improving public participation, budget transparency and oversight.
This opinion was also published in the Saturday Standard, 25 June 2022
For the International Budget Policy Group 2021 Kenya Budget Transparency Survey 2021 see here
For Jaindi Kisero's column on budgeted corruption see here