Counties not giving enough information, study shows

Kenya: There is a dearth in the budget information that counties are making available to the public online, casting doubt on transparency in utilisation of resources by the devolved systems, a new analysis by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) has revealed.

As of January 2015, only three counties - Baringo, Kitui, and Meru - had published the 2015-2016 report online. Only Baringo and Nyamira had published County Budget Review and Outlook Papers for 2014-2015 online. However, the link for Nyamira County Budget Review and Outlook Papers was no longer working by the final review of this analysis.

The Constitution and the Public Finance Management (PFM) Act require greater public disclosure and engagement.

While information can be made available through other means, the availability of the documents online is a good indicator of how transparent county governments are willing to be.

As the country moves towards the digital platform as a means for conducting business, this makes it all the more important for counties to adapt.

"There are three reasons online publication is important. It is cheap and easy to achieve - each county produces these documents and each has a website to host them. Given how easy it is, if a document is unavailable online, it may suggest it is not being made available at all," said IBP's Country Manager for Kenya, Jason Lakin, who co-authored the analysis.

Public forums

Moreover, online publication gives access to everyone with internet connection, regardless of their reasons for seeking the information or their relationship to decision makers.

And although many counties have at least partially fulfilled the legal requirement to consult with the public when preparing budgets during the first two years of devolution, the quality of public forums depends on the information available to the public when they come up to participate.

There are a number of documents that must be made available to the public on specific dates. They include: County Budget Review and Outlook Papers (October 21), Quarterly Implementation Reports (within 30 days of the end of each quarter), County Fiscal Strategy Papers (March 7), Approved Budget Estimates (April 30) and Approved Estimates (July 21 or 21 days after approval).

As of January 2015, no county had published a proper budget implementation report online.

"In January-February 2015, more than halfway through the 2014-15 financial year, we examined all 47 county websites, and those of the county assemblies, to check which budget documents had been published online," said Dr Lakin.

"We found that only eight counties had a version of their proposed estimates for April online," he added.

He said in many cases, it was not possible to ascertain if these were original or approved estimates.

Only three counties had a version of their detailed approved estimates online. Only two counties (Baringo and Bomet) had published both proposed estimates and approved estimates to allow comparison between the two. The PFM Act now dictates that no budgeting should be done without a planning framework in place.