Kenyans would like their voice to be heard more in budget planning

A woman sells vegetables along the Naivasha – Nakuru highway, January 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

When Ms. Phyllis Muhoro, owner of a convenience store in Hunters, Nairobi, is being interviewed, a lady strolls in and goes straight to the pastry section.

She tastes the breads and then asks: “kuna mkate yes 50 bob (Is there a 50 Sh loaf?)’ Ms Muhoro tells her the loaves go on the shelves for 55 Sh. The buyer quickly leaves the convenience store. “See? This has happened a lot. People aren’t able to buy a lot of goods, they look at the prices and then get out,” she says.

With the budget due to be read on April 7, about two months earlier than usual, Ms. Muhoro would have liked to have been among the government’s voices. “Children are at home during the holidays. Parents spend a lot more on groceries than they used to. people cannot save; The excesses they used to have are now swallowed up by higher prices for the goods and services they need every day. There is little disposable income,” she says.

She hasn’t the faintest idea what Mr Ukur Yatani’s early household will address. She is unsure whether ordinary people will find help.

Meters away, Mr. Elijah Muchina makes chapati and sells on the side of the road. He is already flanked by customers. Just behind him, plastered on the wall, is an A4 sheet of paper announcing that the chapati price has gone up from Sh10 to Sh15. “It’s tough,” says Mr. Mukhina. “I now use a jiko because we can’t afford gas. A liter of salad oil, which cost a little over Sh100 a year and a half ago, now costs Sh320. Ten liters retail at Sh1,000; now it’s almost 3,000 shillings.”

If he could, Mr Mukhina says he would have asked the government to look into the issue of the cost of cooking oil and flour, which has risen from Sh1,200 a bale to Sh1,800.

But he feels his concerns and those of other sufferers like him are not being addressed. The household lecture gives him no hope that the issues affecting him will be addressed. If anything, he fears things could get worse after the budget readout.

The budget preparation process involves public participation by law. A National Assembly pamphlet on the role of the public in the budget process, published in 2017, states that the public has the right to participate in the public financial affairs of the Republic, including the budget process, “as expressly required by Article 221 of the Basic Law and by other basic provisions, such as public participation”.

Ministry of Finance CS Ukur Yatani. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

“In particular, Article 221(5) requires a committee of the National Assembly, when debating and reviewing budget proposals, to ‘obtain representations from the public, and the recommendations shall be taken into account when the committee makes its recommendations to the National Assembly,'” reads the issue .

Ken Gichinga, chief economist at business analysis consultancy Mentoria Economics, says the voice of the ordinary Kenyan is often bypassed. “The common man needs a business-friendly environment, which is currently not the case. The tax and regulatory requirements are stifling businesses across the country. Parliament, which is supposed to represent the voice of the people, seems more concerned with elections,” says Mr Gichinga.

When the citizen participation forums are offered, lobby groups from corporations and large manufacturers step up and are heard. You ultimately have a voice and influence the decision. However, the common man is either unaware of the public’s involvement or has a strong feeling that he will not muster the voice needed to get his views across.

“There are forums for public participation, but engagement does not reach the threshold provided for in the constitution. More work needs to be done. Information must be presented to the public in a way that is accessible for meaningful engagement. Even among MPs, for example, there is disagreement about the true level of Kenya’s national debt. Some say it is 11 trillion Sh, others 8 trillion Sh. All of this confuses the average person,” he says.

Mr Gichinga says there is a glimmer of hope for those who feel neglected. “Given that this is the first year that economic policy issues are influencing the general election, there is a likelihood that politicians will be keen to address the plight of citizens. That’s the salvation,” he says.

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