Assessing budget transparency: Does your county disclose essential fiscal information?

  • 5 Jun 2023
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri

Twelve years after the onset of devolution in Kenya, significant progress has been made towards citizens’ access to county governments’ public budget information. 

To achieve the goals of devolution, the Constitution gave county governments powers to raise, receive, allocate and spend public funds in a transparent and accountable manner. In line with this, the Public Finance Management (PFM) Act, 2012, outlines how county governments should adhere to the PFM principles, and how to include the public in decision-making and addressing inequalities as they deliver services to them.

Already, participatory governance and decision-making are taking root in the country. There is a growing awareness among Kenyans of their roles and responsibilities in the budget-making process. They are better versed in how governments raise, allocate, and spend public resources, and there is more demand for a transparent, equitable, and accountable budgeting system.

However, counties need to overcome several challenges and weak accountability for public funds. For instance, the outstanding pending bills in counties have grown from Ksh38 billion in June 2015 to Ksh153 billion in June 2022, a challenge arising from poor budget implementation. 

Additionally, counties’ budget absorption rate is around 80 percent on average. For instance, in the financial year 2021/22, the overall budget absorption was 75 percent, with more unspent funds on development as counties absorbed only half of the development budget in the financial year 2021/22.

Other persistent challenges include under-performance in own-source revenue collection and bulging personnel compensation, with most counties spending above the limit on personnel emoluments. However, budget analysis shows counties are within limits at the allocation stage, but those limits are breached at the implementation stage, this being an indirect effect of unmet local revenue targets that prompt budget revisions.

County Budget Transparency Survey

The County Budget Transparency Survey (CBTS) Report by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) Kenya is one of the few consistent and comprehensive transparency initiatives conducted at the sub-national level worldwide. This is an annual independent survey that provides fair and comparative measures on the status of the information provided by all counties in Kenya as required by the PFM Act, 2012, and its accompanying regulations. 

IBP Kenya says it is important to pay attention to the availability of key budget documents throughout the budget cycle. “This is the first step towards ensuring the public can engage with their respective governments in shaping priorities and allocations identified during the budget-making process’s formulation, approval, implementation, and audit stages. This is all in a bid to enhance public service delivery.”  

The 10 key budget documents are Annual Development Plan, County Fiscal Strategy Paper, Approved Programme Based Budget, Citizens Budget/Mwananchi Budget, Finance Act, County Budget Review and Outlook Paper, Quarterly Budget Implementation Report Q1, Quarterly Budget Implementation Report Q2, Quarterly Budget Implementation Report Q3, and Quarterly Budget Implementation Report Q4.

According to the CBTS 2022 Report, only eight counties published all four quarterly budget implementation reports required. “By not publishing these reports, counties are missing the opportunity to communicate with the public on how their spending is reaching its intended targets,” IBP Kenya stated.

Institute of Public Finance (IPF) Chief Executive officer James Muraguri while speaking during the launch of the report in Nairobi on Tuesday said, “Budget awareness transparency increases trust in government. It increases confidence that our taxes are being spent in the right way.”

UNICEF Kenya Representative Shaheen Snilofer said they believed in the framework of devolution wherein counties play a significant role in delivering essential basic services for all citizens, including children.

The report shows that the Annual Development Plans and County Fiscal Strategy Papers are the most published, with only seven and eight counties missing them, respectively. The County Budget Implementation Review Reports have consistently remained the least published budget documents. The reports indicate that only eight counties published all four implementation reports namely Baringo, Kitui, Kwale, Makueni, Mandera, Nyandarua, Nyeri, and West Pokot.

“This is an improvement from seven counties that published all four implementation reports in CBTS 2021. Whereas there was an improvement, none of the 47 counties has had all the four implementation reports consistently published across the last three successive surveys,” the report states.

Additionally, citizen budgets which are simplified versions of the budget estimates and are supposed to create a public dialogue, have been consistently published by only seven counties in the last three rounds of the survey. The seven counties are Kisii, Makueni, Nakuru, Nyeri, Samburu, Turkana, and West Pokot. 

The report notes that consistency in publishing budget documents is still low, however, improving. “Nyeri is the only county that has published all 10 key budget documents in successive surveys: CBTS 2021 and CBTS 2022. No other county has ever published all the 10 key budget documents in successive surveys.”

The findings show that only four counties published all 10 required key budget documents. These counties are Kitui, Makueni, Nyeri and West Pokot. “This is an improvement from CBTS 2021 where only three counties published all the 10 key budget documents,” the report stated.

The Programme Based Budget is the most detailed budget document and one that is subjected to a lot of public participation. For example, it is prepared by the executive and is subjected to public participation, before the county assembly approves it.

The survey findings indicate that 10 counties have constantly published the approved Programme Based Budgets in the last three rounds of the survey. These counties are Elgeyo-Marakwet, Kakamega, Kericho, Laikipia, Makueni, Nakuru, Nyeri, Samburu, Turkana, and West Pokot.

Four counties never published a budget document in CBTS 2022. These counties are Isiolo, Kajiado, Migori and Wajir. “This is a decline from CBTS 2021 where only two counties never published any key budget documents.”

The counties of Isiolo and Migori are the only two devolved units that have failed to publish any budget document in successive surveys. “Just like CBTS 2021, they failed to publish any budget document in CBTS 2022. Migori is also the only county that has never published the Annual Development Plan and County Fiscal Strategy Paper in the last three successive surveys, that is, CBTS 2020, CBTS 2021 and CBTS 2022.”

The report notes that all counties submit most of these budget documents to the Controller of Budget for requisition of funds which in turn they should ensure they are made available to the public in the right formats and versions. “This will also enable public, civil society organizations and oversight institutions to continue engaging with the government to improve budget transparency.” Accountability cannot be enforced without transparency.