When it comes to public finance, Kenya is giving a whole new meaning to impunity

Saturday November 29 2014

Kenya’s Public Finance Management Act was passed by parliament roughly two years ago. It was heralded as a comprehensive framework for budgeting that encompassed both levels of government. It created a clear budget calendar and robust reporting requirements for national and county alike.

Yet today, in many ways this Act is in a shambles. After two years, we still have no implementing regulations. In spite of this, it is rumoured that many quarters want to see it amended before the regulations are tabled.

Although the national government has done better than the counties at following the law, neither level of government has met the legal timelines.

The Division of Revenue has not been passed on time for the past two years. The national government’s enacted budget has never been made available within 21 days of approval as required by law.

In fact, these days, one cannot get anything off the Treasury website at all. We are told it is being improved, but it isn’t clear why it has to become worse before becoming better, and the current site is much worse than it was a few months ago.

At the county level, no county that I know of made their enacted budget available within 21 days as required by the Act. Most have still not made it available. The tired story from these counties (as well as the Controller of Budget) has been that because these budgets are in court, they cannot be made available. Really?


First of all, it is true that most budgets are in court, in the sense that COB and the County Assemblies are duelling it out over the ceilings for how much Assemblies can spend on themselves.

But the budgets have not been suspended in a manner that would suggest that they cannot be shared because they are sub-judice. In fact, to the contrary, counties are spending 50 per cent of these budgets under a vote of account procedure (which allows a budget to be partially implemented if there is not yet an agreement on the Appropriation Act).

How can you implement half of the budget and then say you can’t make it public because it is in court? Counties should at least make public the 50 per cent they are implementing!

Anyway, the PFM Act does not say anything about counties being permitted to hide their budgets if the Controller doesn’t like them.

Although the Controller probably has most of the budgets approved by counties this year, they have opted not to put these online. They seem to think that this is not their role. It is true that citizens should request these documents from their governments directly and that county governments should make them available on their own websites.

It is also true, however, that in just about any devolved system in the world, national institutions take on the responsibility of creating repositories of information that allow people to see information across all sub-national units.

Overall picture

This is not just about people like me who sit in Nairobi and want an overall picture of the country. A citizen in Machakos may want to compare the Nairobi and Machakos
budgets. A resident of Kwale may find it useful to know how Mombasa is handling its budget for Coast General Hospital, which she also uses.

We cannot seriously expect these people to run around the country demanding information from county governments or visiting county libraries.

If the COB is not to manage this repository on behalf of the public, who will? Worse still, we are now into the second full financial year of devolution and no counties are regularly making quarterly implementation reports available to the public. These must be produced and published 30days after the end of the quarter.

There is no ambiguity in the law, and no one has given any justification for not following this requirement. At one point, it looked like we could at least rely on the Controller to produce these reports for each county if the counties themselves were not doing so, but those were dreams of a more innocent past.

The COB website now contains exactly three 4th quarter implementation reports (Nandi, Kwale and Wajir counties) from 2013/14. Most counties do not have anything past the third quarter of 2013/14, and quite a number, including big spending counties like Mombasa, Machakos and Nairobi, do not have any reports from 2013/14 at all.

The lack of timely and reliable budget implementation information in turn undermines budget formulation, since we are not sure how well agencies are performing with
current funds before we give them more.

This puts me in mind of the Mexican quip, “We have the best constitution in the world, only it is not implemented.” Kenya has a pretty good PFM Act, but it isn’t being implemented. Who will rise to ensure that it is?

Jason Lakin is the Kenya country director of the International Budget Partnership. E-mail:[email protected]