Expanding Public Participation Will Speed Up Development
By Ali Edin,
The question of public participation has lingered on the lips of many and as citizens remain coy of this ‘new vocabulary’ a bigger percentage do not really know that public participation is at the core of running Counties and an essential backdrop of devolution. Article 1 of the Constitution has placed sovereign power to the people and Article 10 (2) (a) and Fourth schedule Part 2 (14) of the constitution has categorically outlined the principles of public participation as an integral part of the work of County Governments.
Public participation is a structured consultative process between interested or affected individuals and the government before any decision is made. It is normally a two way communication and collaborative problem solving with the goal of achieving better and more accessible decisions. In most cases public participation prevents disputes that may arise and end up polarizing the a process or delay its implementation. Public participation seeks and facilitates the involvement of those directly affected by and interested in a decision. The idea of public participation is not just to convey the decisions made but to generate and confirm decisions in a process that involves the agent going to take instructions and direction from the people.
The need for public participation
The recent happening in Isiolo County following the signing of Public Private Partnership Agreement between the County and two private entities is a clear evidence of the kind of conflict that may arise in case of a failed public participation. Senator Dullo raised the red flag about the move by the County Executive to enter into an agreement without consulting the general public on the need, benefits and practicability of the partnership. The dispute was escalated by the fact that the Executive arm failed to provide an enabling environment for the citizens to air their views and concerns before any consensus was agreed upon. Involving the public right from the initial stage is mandatory as it is essential in quelling any fears and concerns that may be evident within the larger masses.
The public ought to be accorded the final say in all decisions made as directly or indirectly they remain the major stakeholders in the County. Public participation will help put in place alternatives and even identify preferred solutions and priority areas. To shut down the door to public involvement is to prepare for at least a delay in policy implementation and cost the government of the day the goodwill of the stakeholders that may sow seeds of political discord and electoral loss in the end. The current standstill in Isiolo County is largely due to the public being left in ‘darkness’ on the plans of the County to improve their livelihoods. It beats the main purpose of devolution to put up development plans and projects without asking the beneficiaries where their needs and priorities actually fall. People have lost trust in politicians and governance as a whole and public participation is an open door towards reclaiming the same but leaders still keep shooting themselves on the head over and over again.
Makueni County as a case study
“Since 2013 our annual budgeting processes and the developing of the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) have undertaken through public participation. In fact, public interest in our public participation events has gradually increased. This year up to 120,000 people out of the almost 1 million people in the County participated in the making of our CIDP 2018-2022,” Prof. Kibwana told his fellow Governors when he hosted them for benchmarking mission. The Devolution CS Eugine Wamalwa termed Prof. Kivutha as a shining beacon of Devolution and lauded his approach of involving the citizens in development. The truth is, the Makueni Governor has succeeded where most Governors have failed and his trick is as simple as telling people, “We are constructing a road for you what do you think about it?” It’s really hogwash to even imagine someone wants to improve your life and not ask you how you want it done.
In Makueni the residents do not just air their views on projects but are engaged throughout the development process to such an extent that the County will only pay for completed projects after the citizens are satisfied with the work. The Citizens are the ones responsible for vetting town administrators, beneficiaries of bursaries and even those that will benefit from Tetheka Funds which is one of the major projects initiated by the County. Prof. Kivutha has made it clear on various forums that at no point will devolution work without involving the citizens in every single project initiated and that transparency is what has managed to transform Makueni County. Right from the grassroots the villagers sit down and propose the kind of projects they want based on their immediate needs.
“I have since learnt that if you make a road without public participation you are doing nothing,” Siaya Governor Cornell Rasanga had once said. Leaving out the citizens in the planning and execution stages of development has instigated a stall in various projects that would have otherwise transformed the lives of many people. It’s easier to see ECDs being constructed in areas that lack basic amenities like water and even polytechnics being set up in areas that lack schools. Devolution will only work if people are allowed to have the final say in what they want, how they want it done, based on the pressing needs. The County should also go back to the people and get approval on completed projects before processing any payments to avoid cases of people swindling public money with shoddy work. Devolution needs the people for it to work.
Ali is a sociopolitical commentator and a high school Biochemistry teacher.