“Democracy must offer citizens the means to articulate and voice their concerns in a way that effectively reaches their representatives.”
Public participation is a right that is enshrined in the constitution of Kenya, 2010. From the onset, at Article 1(2), the Constitution states that ‘The people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives.’
Public participation comes in the first limb of this Article, ‘..directly..’.
Hence there are two broad dimensions of public participation namely, indirect involvement and direct involvement. Indirect involvement acknowledges that electoral officials and professional administrators should act on behalf of the citizens in a representative democracy. Direct involvement suggests that citizens are the owners of the government and should be involved in the decisions of the State.
Since it occurs primarily at the administrative-citizen interface direct participation therefore differs from political participation. The latter includes but is not limited to voting in elections, contacting elected officials and campaigning for political candidates
Public participation creates a balance between governing for the people, and governing by the people. The concept emphasizes on the need to enhance further inclusion and meaningful participation of citizenry in the process of decision making within governance structures.
It is one of the National values and principles of governance for our country. At Article 10(2) of the constitution it says, ‘the national values and principles of governance include––
(a) Patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people;’ This therefore means that if a person or body does not involve the public in a decision making process that directly will affect the public, then that person or body shall have violated the national values and principles as set out in the constitution. That is why the constitution directs parliament at Article 118 to ‘facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees.’
Harnessed properly, public participation has the potential of playing a significant role and greatly influencing decision making and ultimately improves the governance process.
The makers of our constitution considered that public participation emphasizes on concepts like ‘more heads are better than one’ leading to productive and sustainable change. Indeed, it is part of a ‘people first’ or ‘people centered’ methods of management, which avoids centralized, hierarchical decision-making.
Who therefore is the ‘public?’
In public participation, the ‘public’ refers to ‘people with an interest in or are likely be affected, by a decision made, either positively or negatively’.
Civil society organisations should not only act as watchdogs, but also influence public opinion in terms of supporting or being against local government policies and practices.
Civil society organisations have for long played a significant role in enhancing a culture of participation across the world.
Tools of public participation
The question then begs how citizens can actively engage with the highest echelons of power.
Civil society movements and organisations have epitomized various avenues to include: Public hearings, forming lobby groups, citizen report cards, social audits and citizen action groups.
A great future for our country lies in a government that is proactive and not reactive and a citizenry that is active rather than passive.
Public participation in the budgetary process
There is provided a whole Chapter on public finance in the constitution and from the very beginning, it outline what are the principles of public finance. Article 201 states inter alia that ‘there shall be openness and accountability, including public participation in financial matters;’
This therefore means that public participation is an integral part when it comes to matters handling and or public finance budgeting.
This does not only apply to the national budgeting process but also the County Budget process. This is illustrated in Article 196 of the constitution which says that ‘A county assembly shall—
(a) conduct its business in an open manner, and hold its sittings and those of its committees, in public; and
(b) facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of the assembly and its committees.
Question of when does/should public participation begin and when should it end.
Public participation should be a continuous process. Governments should systematically collect, maintain, monitor, and analyze information gained from public involvement activities, maintain contact information on individuals and groups that wish to be kept informed, and use multiple communication mechanisms to ensure that those involved or interested in the process are notified of opportunities for additional feedback and of decisions made based on the public involvement process. Ultimately the government ought to provide feedback to the public on how their input has been used.
AGCP- Kituo Cha Sheria