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, 2014).
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.
Irked Nyamira residents halted a public budget participation forum in May 2016. They demanded the organizers to pay them an allowance for attending the daylong exercise. The locals, who were less than 100, accused county officials of not providing lunch for them.
The residents received a bottle of soda and water while the county officials apparently went for lunch at a hotel. Led by two local political activists, the group demanded sitting allowances before continuing with the exercise.
Budget forums are not about food and money
This incident raises 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, the Nyamira residents mentioned above did exactly the opposite here. They thought that by attending the budget forum, they owed their county officials a 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.
Before that, Mombasa County residents had walked out of a similar forum. They complained about the short notice the county government gave to notify the public to attend the forum. That is a challenge that county governments have been grappling with.
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.
Therefore, in comparison, the decision the Mombasa residents made was a genuine call. It was bizarre for the 100 Nyamira residents to boycott such an important meeting just because the county officials did not meet their material needs.
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 a question for another discussion outside the scope of this article.
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. This also applies to other forms of public participation.