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Enhancing citizen participation in decision making in public forums.

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Lack of inclusivity and feedback from the citizens during public planning meetings at the county levels is the cause of inefficient public service delivery. The number of women and youths involved in planning meetings organised by the county governments are low and budget planning meetings coincide with crop calendar season and activities. There are no feedbacks to the county integrated development plans and farmer’s needs on agricultural investments such as extension services are not prioritised.

County governments came into office in 2013 following the promulgation of the constitution 2010. The primary objective of devolution is to enhance service delivery to the people through citizen participation. This is also meant to improve government responsiveness to local needs and accountability for public spending. Devolved systems not only bring government and resources closer to the people but also give powers and responsibilities to the leaders and citizens at the county level in decision making.

The participation of citizens is guaranteed in the laws enacted by county and national governments. It is a critical activity of development of policies and laws that have a more positive impact on their social and economic lives. A study undertaken by Tegemeo on the level of citizen participation in agricultural sector after devolution revealed that in the first year of devolution it was minimal among the farm households. The study further showed that the percentage of women and youth attending development meeting was low. In addition, senior men actively participated though the numbers were low.

Successful attendance of development meetings require good planning and communication. Among the effective communication pathways used by counties are the print media, radio/TV, local administration, friends and relatives networks, schools and churches. The print and electronic media are inaccessible to a majority of citizens particularly in remote regions and they target the elites in the society just like was the case witnessed before changing of the governance system.

According to Tegemeo results, even though these communication pathways were effective for passing information, the timing of the meetings did not favour the participation women and the youths. For example, the planning and budget meetings at the county level take place in the morning hours  and usually coincide with the onset of the planting season. This placed a huge premium for rural households since labour at that time is also required on the farms. 

Further, to boost participation, there is need to open up feedback channels espcially to the governors’  County Integrated Development Plans to demonstrate to communities that their views are being taken on board. The first generation CIDPs were development proposals of the governors’ at the time of elections. While it can be argued that the public endorse the  manifesto by electing the governor, inclusion of views from dissenting  localities and those of women and youth could allow for better prioritisation of projects that indeed respond to the urgent needs of the locals.  

This was also supported by Tegemeo findings that majority of the people attending the meetings were recipients of agricultural subsidies such as seed and fertiliser from the national and county governments. The new constitution supports access to information by all citizens which is a crucial ingredient to active participation inorder to enhance service delivery, promote accountability and good governance, for improved living standards and realisation of sustainable development.  Therefore, the county governments should strive to share information with its citizens through the use of all available channels of communication.

The county governments in partnership with community – based organisations must create awareness of all the development programmes and projects and, support to conduct civic education to enable the citizens to understand their roles and responsibilities in these meetings. Makueni County, has already established the Public Participation Office mandated to ensure that public participation is well organised and coordinated across all the departments, and the communities are well prepared to participate in development activities.The offices are devolved up to the ward level where facilitators train and mobilize citizens for public participation.

Therefore, to enhance citizen participation, the county governments should make use of existing communication channels to share information to a large proportion of the rural population and identify a suitable time for their participation in consultative development meetings.


 

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