People receive a budget in budget forums. A government budget is a document presenting the government’s proposed revenues, spending and priorities for a particular financial year.
The legislature passes the budget and the chief executive approves it. The national or country treasuries present the budget to the national or county assemblies respectively.
The government budget is also a set of procedures by which the government rations resources and controls spending among the various government agencies. The government budget is an allocation mechanism that aims to maximize the contribution of public expenditure to national welfare (TI Kenya).
Budget forums are vital in budget planning
The focus of budgeting is to end poverty by identifying priorities with the greatest impact on society. The government identifies these priorities by identifying the needs of its citizens. To identify these needs, the government must involve the public.
It should mobilize the public to identify priorities that have the greatest impact on their well-being. The government should then convert these priorities into tangible outcomes (projects). However, the government cannot achieve these priorities without resources.
The government gets the resources it needs to actualize the identified priorities through taxes. The citizens pay rates and taxes that become revenue sources for the government. The government also borrows internally or externally when the taxes are insufficient to finance its activities. Other sources of revenue include grants and donor funding.
The budget comes in as a plan on how the government shall acquire the revenue, how it shall spend it, and identifying priorities to spend the money on. This is how the budget becomes an “allocation mechanism”. Even when the government borrows money (loans), the burden to pay rests with the taxpayers.
Budget forums facilitate public participation
The public plays a crucial role in all the budget process. Yet, the budget process in Kenya is not just a day’s affair. It is a process that begins on 30th August of the current year to 30th December of the following year.
What most people are familiar with is the budget statement that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance reads in June of every year.
Despite that, public input in the budget process is essential. It gives people a voice in decision-making. The public can voice their demands for the government to consider and implement. The Constitution, after all, guarantees public participation that forms one of its fundamental pillars.
Therefore, the public should consider public participation a matter of life and death and attend budget forums. However, that is not always the case.
Some citizens disrupt or fail to attend public budget forums. They make demands such as to get allowances (some as bizarre as sitting allowances) and food before they attend.
Budget forums are not about food and money
These incidents raise pertinent questions with regard to public participation in budget forums. The county governments organize the budget forums to give people a voice in decision-making.
Therefore, rather than see the budget forums as a burden, the public should see them as an opportunity to determine resource allocation, and thereby their future.
Unfortunately, some people do exactly the opposite here. They think that by attending the budget forums, they owe their county officials big favour. However, that is not the case.
In fact, the county officials would be very happy if they did not have to ‘bother’ seeking public participation in the budget process.
In some instances, the reasons for refusing to participate in budget forums are genuine. This includes instances when government officials provide very short notices for public participation. This makes it difficult for the public to scrutinize the budget documents to provide actionable information.
Unfortunately, at the county level, limited access to information on budgets is perpetual. It is at the level of tokenism.
Counties only give short notices in the newspapers for people to attend the forums. Only a few people get to know about these forums and their contribution is minimal. Often, they have little (or no) time to scrutinize the budget documents available.
The best remedy in such a case is to seek legal redress and some county residents have done that in the past such as in Kiambu and Mombasa counties.
County officials get allowances and other per diem for organizing or attending these forums. The public cannot equate themselves with these officials and start demanding allowances and per diem for participating.
Whether these benefits the officials receive are justified is another question altogether.
The issues under discussion in budget forums involve the public and their overall welfare. They take part in planning to determine their future. Therefore, the public should not use such flimsy excuses as food and money to boycott or derail budget forums. Otherwise, they will be auctioning their future.
The same applies also to other forms of public participation.