There has been little serious reflection on what the first year of county budget implementation tells us about how devolution is faring. This is partially due to the fact that there is little information available about budget execution.
As I wrote previously, few if any counties have made budget implementation data available on a regular basis to the public even though they are required to do so by the Public Finance Management Act.
However, it is also the case that there has been little assessment of the data we do have. For example, we have a comprehensive year-end report on budget implementation from the Controller of Budget covering all 47 counties in 2013/14.
While that report got a mention in the local media when it was released, there has been almost no further analysis of it. This reflects a general lack of seriousness on the part of media, civil society and others who claim to be interested in such things.
But it also reflects weaknesses in the structure and content of the report.
What do we want to know from a budget implementation report? We have one fundamental concern: You (government) said you were going to spend a certain amount on various things. Did you or did you not spend that money and if you did not, why not?
It follows from this that a budget implementation report should clarify for us why we didn’t meet our spending targets and provide direction on how these issues will be resolved. Does the COB report do this?
I conducted a small test of the report to see how well it achieved these expectations. I looked at three counties where my organisation works to see what the report had to say: Nyeri, Taita Taveta and Uasin Gishu.
First, it is worth noting that, according to the report, Nyeri had the highest budget implementation rate of any county in 2013/14 (95 per cent). Given this, we would reasonably expect that the county would have the least to explain in terms of its challenges in budget implementation.
Yet while Taita and Uasin Gishu only spent 69 per cent and 59 per cent of their budgets respectively, the report provides six challenges facing Nyeri, five facing Uasin Gishu and two facing Taita.
When we look at the challenges mentioned, moreover, it is clear that there is no particular relationship between the failures of implementation and the reasoning given. For example, one of the explanations given for Nyeri’s implementation challenges is a “delayed finance Bill.” This is not mentioned in the other two counties.
Generally, the significance of a delayed finance Bill is that it would explain low revenue collection against target. If we look at the data, however, Nyeri collected 90 per cent of its local revenue target, while Taita only collected 52 per cent and Uasin Gishu 69 per cent.
In other words, we have an explanation for poor revenue collection for the county that did not have poor revenue collection, and we have no explanation for the counties that did have poor collection.
The data the Controller provides raise some pretty obvious questions about implementation, but these are left unanswered. We have already seen that low revenue collection in Taita and Uasin Gishu is unexplained. One issue that does arise in Nyeri in spite of its overall good performance is that it received less from the national transfer than it budgeted. No explanation is provided for this.
On the spending side, budget implementation was below 70 per cent in both Uasin Gishu and Taita Taveta, but the challenges in the COB report do not really explain why this should be so. Uasin Gishu also used less than 70 per cent of the funds that were released to it, suggesting some additional problems in that county that require explanation.
When thinking about what requires explanation on the budget implementation side, a useful approach is to look at how each county compares with the average across all counties.
For example, across the country, counties spent about 83 per cent of their recurrent budgets. By my calculations, all three of my counties performed at this level or above. But on the development side, the national average was 36 per cent.
While Nyeri and Taita performed better, Uasin Gishu only spent 13 per cent of its development budget. This is where I would look for an explanation. Taita didn’t perform particularly well by normal standards, spending only 47 per cent of its development budget, but that was better than average for the first year and is less worrying.
If I were the Controller, I would be looking at these outliers and trying to shed some light on why they performed particularly poorly (or well, as the case may be; Nyeri’s 64 per cent development spending performance is so much higher than the national average it also deserves explanation). This should lead to more serious public discussion of budget implementation.
Jason Lakin is Kenya country director for the International Budget Partnership. E-mail: [email protected]