Public buy-in key to sound policy and real growth

Activist Julius Kamau being thrown out of an IEBC meeting at a city hotel, June 29, 2022. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

One of the defining characters of the 2010 Constitution was its central placement of public participation between state and society.

Article 1(2) spells out that sovereign power belongs to the people and may be exercised directly or indirectly through their representatives. 

Article 10 similarly highlights public participation as one of the principles of governance. It is the same expectation for Parliament and county assemblies. Indeed, the Constitution in word and spirit puts great emphasis on the sovereignty of the people who only delegate the power to the government yet must be involved in one way or another.

Unfortunately, this revolutionary element of the Constitution has been glossed over or applied sparingly and pretentiously. Yet, its full implementation promises great rewards both to government and the people; socially, politically and economically.

First, public participation offers the government or implementing agency an opportunity to understand what the people consider to be a problem that needs fixing. It is the basis on which any form of bottom-up policy is built. This then helps build goodwill and ownership of projects and decisions.

This is important because projects need to be sustained by the communities that benefit directly.

Secondly, public participation builds a foundation for effective dissemination of information. It also helps avoid protracted conflict and costly delays that may eventually derail a well-intended intervention.

Finally, public participation fosters cooperation between the people and the implementing agency. This then means public participation must be genuine and not just an illusory formality to meet constitutional obligations.

At the end of public engagement, there must be a clear way through which people will follow through their input. One way of doing this is through the Makueni model that has won praise in and outside of Kenya. The former Governor Kivutha Kibwana’s model employs a progression of committees all the way from the village where people form village councils to the county people’s forum where 660 people’s representatives participate.

These are the people who know what and where it pinches them most in their community and needs addressing at the county level. When the projects are successfully implemented or decisions made, the people take pride in them.

In fact, democracy has been defined as a government by the people and for the people. Their participation begins at the election stage, where they directly choose their leaders. These leaders who now form government must remain accountable to their nominators as they remain mere delegates.

It is unfortunate that this reality is yet to sink in. Most failed projects and white elephants strewn across the country are as a result of project initiators who wrongly believe that one size should fit all. Real and genuine public participation thus is the real deal. 

-The writer is anchor at Radio Maisha