Public views should matter in the law-making process

Kiambu Governor Kimani Wamatangi during a public participation meeting for the construction of a three-floor Wangige market on Jan 26, 2024. [Gitau Wanyike, Standard]

The public outrage that has forced the government to rethink the controversial law allowing the Kenya Revenue Authority to tax farm produce, is an indictment on the charade that is public participation in government decision-making.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua revealed over the weekend that he had spoken to the President and the Treasury CS about the tax and that it would be reviewed.

“We can’t be helping the farmer on one side and, on the other, we are oppressing him. Our government listens and it cares for the farmers,” he said in Embu.

While there is no doubt that the government listens, it is doubtful it takes citizen’s suggestions with seriousness, especially when it comes to public participation sessions.

It is no secret that the public was overwhelmingly against the Finance Bill, 2023, especially regarding the housing levy, the 16 per cent VAT on fuel and the tax on agricultural produce.

But as it is used to doing, the Executive railroaded the Bill through, with none other than President Ruto warning his Kenya Kwanza MPs not to dare vote against the Bill.

It is not surprising then that it is only now that Kenya Kwanza MPs are getting ‘shocked’ by the ramifications of the law that they swiftly passed in Parliament.

The truth is, if MPs took their work seriously and fulfilled the wishes of the people as they are supposed to do and not the Executive, we would not be in the awkward position that we are in now.

Public participation is not in the Constitution for aesthetic purposes. Public participation in decision-making is at the core of democratic governance. The citizens must have a say in the crafting of decisions that affect their lives.

It is not enough to collect public views. Those views must be reflected in the resultant laws and decisions.

It is unnecessary to waste people’s time garnering views that will not matter eventually. Or does it mean that farmers have just seen the light, like their leaders, and are now going against a decision that they endorsed?