By Patrick Mariru
Citizens dynamics in governance is practically a new area in Kenya today. In the past, citizens dynamics and engagement in governance matters was largely unstructured and not expressly provided for in the constitution and legal regimes. It is important to underscore that direct engagement of the citizens in all matters that concern them is critical and a good governance practice.
This paper holds that citizens dynamics and equilibrium governance is essentially about offering citizens unconditional opportunity and space to engage, contribute and influence governance matters and decisions on all matters that concern them. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as public participation.
This paper will put the public participation process into context. It will mainly focus on the practical public participation processes in the County Assembly of Laikipia. The paper will also point out possible challenges, successes and reform opportunities moving forward.
Citizens engagement within the legal framework
In 2010, Kenyans promulgated a new constitution. One of the major highlight in the new constitution is the decision to transit from a central form of government to a devolved one. Devolution is at two levels: national and county. Devolution is extensively provided for in the Kenya constitution.
Public participation is having an open, accountable and structured process where citizens or people or a segment of a community can interact, exchange views and influence decision making. Actually, public participation is part of a democratic process.
Public participation is now a guaranteed process in Kenya. The constitution in various chapters and clauses require that public participation be undertaken at all levels of government before government officials and body make official decisions.
However, it is important to point out that public participation is essentially a new process in Kenya today. It is a complex and not so well understood concept and process. The process is often unstructured and undertaken in a tokenism way. On the other hand, there is little capacity building on the citizens to enable them engage in the process from an informed, structured and meaningful way.
Understanding public participation broadly
Ochieng (2012) does not an extensive study of the devolution in Kenya as a means of engendering public participation in Kenya. He focuses on counties in Kenya but does a reasonable comparison with other jurisdictions especially South Africa and Uganda. However, although the study sheds light on the legal and constitutional architecture of public participation within the devolution context, it remains highly theoretical. The study was done before the counties in Kenya were actually set up. Ochieng (2012; 7) notes:-
Given that Kenya’s devolved governments will only be operational after the general elections scheduled for March 2013, the study is limited to an analysis of the legal and institutional framework established to undergird the system. This is informed by the reality that no practice has been generated at the time of the study.
However, the study by Ochieng gives a critical glimpse of the desired public participation process within the then anticipated devolution architecture. The findings of that study are relevant in Kenya today.
Muriu (2013) also has done a study on decentralization, public participation and local public service delivery. According to Muriu (2013), there is an empirical link between citizen participation and service delivery in local governments. There is a fundamental and constitutional difference between the previous local authorities and current county governments. The difference is not only at constitutional provisions but also the architecture, philosophy and express interface between government and its people at the local levels.
According to the Constitution and Reform Education Consortium (creco) (2014) a model policy framework for public participation in county governments is necessary. Such a framework would enhance and guarantee meaningful public participation at the county levels. To develop such a framework there is need to compare and borrow from such similar regimes in other jurisdictions.
In 2012 the Kenya Constitution Implementation Commission (CIC) and Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs organized a conference of stakeholders to engage on possible framework of public participation. The aim was to provide an opportunity for stakeholders from the three arms of government, civil society and other non state actors, international experts as well as the academia to share different perspectives and experiences in regard to implementation of public participation principles. The conference generated a report.
There are many studies done around devolution in Kenya and its interface with public participation. There has also been comparable studies in the same areas from other jurisdictions. However, this paper will study, to some depth, the practical realities of public participation at the County Assembly of Laikipia.
Citizens dynamics in Laikipia County; the case of the County Assembly
a) The initial challenges
Considering that public participation process and thus the citizens dynamics in the county is a new process, the government officials – especially in at the county assembly of Laikipia faced enormous challenges to institutionalize the process. Some of the initial challenges included;-
There was no particular office or organ within the assembly that had an express mandate to spearhead the public participation process. This meant that various Assembly committees organized their own public hearings and participation processes. There was no harmony and congruence in the process and methodology.
At this stage, there was no threshold and standard to meet. It was impossible to evaluate if public participation processes were credible and effective and whether this brought any value to the citizens in Laikipia County.
Lack of awareness among the citizens was another issue that the assembly had to deal with at the onset. The citizens did not initially understand why they needed to engage the government on issues such as legislations and policy making. There was therefore need to make the public understand how for instance participating in the enactment of a law would translate to creation of more jobs, better roads and better schools.
The other challenge that the assembly encountered was the financial. Public participation is essentially expensive.
b) The initial and main intervention?
One of the remarkable intervention and action to institutionalize and systematize public participation process in the County was the enactment of the Laikipia County Public Participation Act by the County Assembly of Laikipia.
This law basically created both a public participation office and an advisory committee to facilitate public participation process and engagements across the County. The law also established citizen participation forums. These forums provide platforms for consultations, review and deliberations on critical matters affecting different levels of government.
The law also outlined the public participation methods including public meetings, public hearings, workshops, surveys, direct mail, newsletters, public submissions, partnerships and collaborations, internet platforms
It is important to note that the law provides for public participation engagements not only for the assembly but also the executive arm of government. Further, the law ensures that the process is not done in a tokenism way, but is meaningful to the citizens of the County.
c) Other citizen engagement initiatives
i) Taking the assembly to the people.
The county assembly embarked on an extensive county-wide civic education forums. These are forums where the members met and appreciated the realities of the county; the people got opportunities to raise cardinal issues to the Assembly (these issues were recorded and found their way into the County Integrated Development Plan, Budget process, motions in the assembly and committee businesses). It was also an opportunity to conduct civic education on the role and place of the county assembly in county development.
ii) Creating strategic alliances
There was a deliberate action by the County assembly to reach out to various groups in the County. The aim was to have various sectors and segments of the county population understand and appreciate the constitutional role of the assembly as well as areas of possible collaboration and partnership. In these engagements, opportunities and avenues for the different sectors to work with the assembly were made clear. The sectors the assembly worked (and continues to work with) included the business community, private and community ranches, education community, civil society, cooperative movement, women and youth organizations, farmers’ associations, religious communities and professional groups including Law Society of Kenya.
This has been one of the assembly’s outstanding platform for engaging the people. The assembly post its motions, papers and bills on this website.
Public participation is a constitutional right for the people and an obligation on the part of the government. Actually, the experience at the County Assembly of Laikipia is that public participation is also beneficial to the Government as well. Apart from the fact that public participation helps create a good relationship between the people and the government and therefore leads to a more transparent government, there is a lot that the government can learn from the people. The experts out of government have proved to be helpful in shaping public policy whenever they are engaged through the public participation processes.
The Constitution of Kenya, 2010
Laikipia County Public Participation Act, 2014
Ochieng Khobe (2012) Devolution of Government in Kenya as a means of engendering public participation in governance. University of Pretoria. Masters thesis
Abraham Muriu (2013) Decentralization, citizen participation and local public service delivery; a study on the nature and influence of citizen participation on decentralized service delivery in Kenya. University of Portsdam. Masters thesis
Constitution and Reform Education Consortium (creco) (2014) Model policy framework for public participation in county governments. Creco. Nairobi.
Kenya Constitution Implementation Commission (CIC) (2012) Report on the conference of stakeholders framework of public participation. CIC. Nairobi
Legislative Sector Support project of South Africa (2013), Public participation in legislative sector in South Africa. Available at http://www.sals.gov.za/docs/pubs/ppf.pdf
The Author is a member of Internationa Institute for Legislative Affairs Board and also the Speaker of Laikipia County Assembly.