Budget-making processes in Nyanza: Journalists decry lack of transparency, information from counties

By , K24 Digital
On Sun, 31 Mar, 2024 22:00 | 6 mins read
A graphical image of the word .budget'. PHOTO/Pexels
A graphical image of the word .budget'. PHOTO/Pexels

Stakeholders from several sectors have faulted four Nyanza counties over the lack of transparency in the budget-making processes which blocks journalists and the public from the crucial process.

Activists, rights groups, residents, and journalists argue the process is shrouded in mystery and have poked holes in how Kisumu, Homa Bay, Siaya and Migori counties implement the process.

The budget-making process is a critical component in the governance of counties and sets the stage for the successes and failures in the implementation of development projects.

Audi Ogada, an activist and the chairperson of Kisumu Residents Voice argues that some County Assemblies often want to keep some elements of the budget a secret from the media and the public.

"It is a constitutional right that every government official must adhere to provide information," he said.

He noted that there are some elements in the budget-making process that counties always want to hide not only from the media but also from the general public.

The media plays an important role in enhancing transparency and education on the process and is among the vital stakeholders integral in overseeing the process while keeping the public informed.

However, journalists and residents claim the process is shrouded in mystery in most Nyanza counties and done in near-secrecy as county officials block journalists from accessing crucial budget documents they can rely on to analyze the contents of the budget.

The situation is made worse by counties like Siaya, Migori, Homa Bay, and Nyamira that fail to provide the documents on their websites for public scrutiny.

Various stakeholders argue that the efforts by some countries to bar journalists from accessing budget documents are a form of media capture and an assault on the constitutional right to information.

This is also compounded by county officials who decline interviews to shed light on some of the inclusions in the budget documents, consequently, forcing journalists to rely only on the budget report presented at the County Assembly when the document is tabled for passing.

Controversial proposal

Ogada says the reluctance to be transparent includes controversial proposals that are likely to stir public debate.

After failing to bring such issues to the general public, he said the officials usually give popular versions by only allowing the public to access only 3 pages of, for instance, a 90-page document.

Similarly, Michael Nyaguti, the chairperson of Magnum Environmental Network and a budget facilitator at Uraia International Partnership contends that the implementation of effective public participation has been a mirage.

“Even key documents are not made available on the websites of counties. Meaningful public participation should entail giving the public a chance to peruse crucial documents,” Nyaguti says

So common is the effort to keep the process secret that in 2022, at least four counties were flagged by International Budget Partnership-Kenya (IBP Kenya), an entity focused on investigating transparency of the budget-making process, for failing to make public their budget documents.

“Access to quality information enables the public to engage their government from an informed point of view with credible evidence. This allows for effective public participation and quality decision-making within the budget process,” the report read.

According to the report, Migori is among the counties that failed to publish their documents online for public scrutiny hence denying the public the right to information. The devolved unit is the only county that did not publish its annual development plan and also its County Fiscal Strategy Paper.

Jared Nyangira, a radio journalist based in Migori contends that it is always very difficult to access documents involved in budget-making processes.

“The assemblies should give the media their freedom to participate fully during the budget-making process so that the public can have confidence in the activities they carry out as a House,” he says.

Finance Act

Similarly, some 23 counties did not publish their Finance Act between 2020 and 2022, while eight did not publish their budget outlook paper for the same period.

Interviews with several parliamentary journalists suggested that the process is sometimes designed to  block journalists from accessing information and disseminating it to the public for example by not not replying emails and returning back calls from the journalists.

This is climaxed by public participation exercises that some activists from Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay, and Migori claim are conducted in the presence of a few people and without copies of the budget documents shared.

Rushdie Oudia, a County Assembly reporter for the Nation Media Group, described reporting on the County Budget-making process as hectic because journalists are not involved from the start.

Oudia said it is not easy to access some documents and although they attend public hearings, sometimes only a condensed version of a budget estimate is always presented to the public.

"There are also some reports which are kept out of our reach by Members of County Assemblies who have interest also denying us a copy. For example, the county budget outlook paper," he said.

The former immediate chairperson of the Kisumu Journalist Network also said that several components of media capture hinder journalists from effectively reporting on the budget-making process.

Oudia told People Daily that some of the forms of media capture emanate from within the media houses, where the management sometimes pays attention to commercial interests ahead of the news.

Journalists Olivia Odhiambo (The Standard) and Philder Odanga (Nam Lolwe radio) who cover  Kisumu and Homa Bay counties said at times their hands are tied even when there is pressure from the public to share with them information on the process.

“As a radio journalist, I depend on voice recordings to help build up my stories. However, most of the officials involved in the budget-making process are always unwilling to go on record to explain some components,” Olivia explains.

Maurice Ochieng, a resident of Homa Bay claimed that the public participation exercises always take place for only a few minutes.

“The documents shared during the process are not complete and we only learn about them after the budget has been endorsed,” Ochieng said.

He claimed that in most cases, they struggle to find information even from the local media stations.

“It is always very rare to find county officials attending radio talk shows to educate residents on some of the proposals contained in the budget. During the public participation exercises, the process is always rushed,” he said.

Nancy Auko, a grocery vendor in Migori, echoed his sentiments and claimed that the report that is always presented for debate is limited with information.

“I tried to attend a debate on the budget in 2022 but the public gallery was full of county officials who had encroached even the media gallery. I was shown the door alongside other traders,” she claimed.

Role of journalists

According to Joshua Nyamori, a constitutional lawyer, the role of journalists is critical in the budget-making process and helps in promoting transparency. However, the lawyer claims, the media industry is struggling to overcome elements of media capture. 

"The constitution and the county Acts require that there is openness, transparency, and public participation for the process to be complete,” he says.

He said that it is not possible to have public participation unless there is openness and accountability.

"This is not only to members of the public but also journalists because not all journalists have finance backgrounds and so it becomes difficult for all of them to understand details of the budget," he said.

He added that it is important that the budget be interpreted and simplified for everyone to understand and communicated in a language that both the public and journalists can understand and follow.

County Assemblies in the region, however, deny claims that they have been obstructing journalists and the public from accessing crucial budget documents.

Tom Brian, a communication officer at the Siaya County Assembly, for instance,  says that they always strive to give information to journalists.

“In our endeavor to expand transparency and accountability, the County Assembly of Siaya has always appreciated the vital role of the media in communicating and reporting budget-making budget-making process,” he says.

He argues that they always engage journalists to promote budget transparency and citizen participation.

“We engage the media to effectively inform our people on budget proposals and encourage them to get involved in the making of the budget by submitting their views, memorandum, and petitions.”

Francis Otiato, Yimbo Eást MCA in Siaya and also a member of the budget-making committee, said that sometimes journalists do not know when the committee is going to meet.

"This is because communication of the committee activities is made within the assembly and might not be put on the website. But after the boardroom meetings when we start public participation and we start annual development plans, it should be communicated to the journalists," he said.

According to Homabay's Assembly board member Jeff Ongoro and Kanyaluo ward MCA, they always involve journalists and even immediately after presenting the report they always interact with the journalists.

"In all stages, we always welcome the journalists and whenever they want any documents, they are always put in all our social media accounts where they can access them and we also have our library where journalists can always walk in any time to make inquiries," he said.

The Public Financial Management Act  (PFM) 2012 promotes transparency as an important step to enhancing accountability in the management of public finances.

According to Article 129 (6) of the PFM ACT, 2012, “as soon as is practicable after the budget estimates and other documents have been submitted to the County Assembly, the County Executive Committee member for finance shall publish and publicize the documents”.


This content was developed thanks to a grant administered by Kenya Editors Guild. The project received support from the Thomson Reuters Foundation as part of its global programme aiming to strengthen free, fair and informed societies. The financial assistance provided does not influence the journalist's editorial work. The content of this article belongs solely to the author and is not endorsed by or associated with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Thomson Reuters, or any other affiliates.