The more Kenya strives for transparency, the more opaque its budgeting becomes

Friday April 18 2014

By April 30, Kenya’s Treasury must table the government’s budget proposals for 2014/15 in parliament.

Last year, Treasury made a dramatic change in how it presented its budget proposals. The new budget presentation followed an approach known as programme-based budgeting (PBB).

A programme-based budget is considered good practice internationally because it helps to shift the focus of budget analysis and oversight away from inputs (like fuel, stationery and training) toward outputs, like the provision of health or education services.

A PBB is organised around a set of programmes within ministries with clear objectives, whose progress is measured through concrete indicators and targets. 

The noble idea behind PBB is that it helps parliament and the public to ask questions about public spending that actually matter (such as, “Is the ministry using its budget to provide accessible/quality education services?”), rather than the kinds of details that are difficult to link to the ultimate objectives of spending (“Did the ministry spend all the money we gave them for stationery last year?”)

However, while PBB is a genuine step in the right direction, the application of PBB to Kenya’s budget last year had a number of unfortunate consequences.


In the first place, whenever any government agency undertakes a major shift in how they present information, they should provide a guide (known as a “crosswalk”) to how to use the new presentation that helps users find information that was readily available in the old presentation. This was not done. 

Secondly, while the PBB did restructure ministries into programmes, it did so in ways that concealed massive amounts of information.

Take the example of health. The new Ministry of Health was divided into three programmes: Curative Services, Preventive and Promotive Health, and Disaster Management. No further disaggregation was provided to know what exactly was contained within these programmes. In one stroke, we lost the ability to identify spending for national hospitals, HIV services, mental health services, reproductive health, immunisation and so on. 

Good PBBs usually divide ministries into programmes, but then further divide those programmes into sub-programmes. This allows more information about what each programme actually does.

Kenya’s budget stopped at the programme level, leaving us in the dark about how the ministry actually delivers health services. By comparison, the South African health budget (also a PBB) has six programmes, each of which has several sub-programmes.

It is also difficult to distinguish between the three programmes in the Kenyan budget because their objectives and targets are vague and overlapping. All three programmes have HIV-related indicators, and both the Curative and the Disaster Programme seem to consider the number of HIV patients receiving ARVs as an indicator of their success.

Availability of drugs is part of the Preventive and Promotive Programme, but presumably the curative services mentioned under the Curative Programme also require drugs. This raises the question: Which programme handles funding for the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency?

The old budget presentation provided considerable information about staff remuneration in each ministry, down to the number of staff of different types. While this information may have encouraged too much focus on the number of drivers or cleaners a ministry employed, the new approach goes to the other extreme, and provides absolutely no information about staffing levels.

Each programme has a generic budget line for “compensation to employees,” but it is impossible to determine how many people are employed or what they do. 

PBB emphasises outputs over inputs, but it does not eliminate information about inputs. The South African health budget offers a compromise, providing information on the number of workers by job grade, without details down to the individual job itself.

More information on specific types of workers, such as those providing clinical versus administrative services, would be important.

Finally, while Kenya’s PBB last year provided some narrative about programmes and a set of indicators, not all indicators had actual targets. For example, one of the indicators is “percentage of children under 1 year immunised.”

But no target has been provided. How can we assess progress without knowing where we started, where we want to go, and how long we think it will take? 

I do not believe there is any turning back from a PBB approach; the trick is to make it as logical, transparent and useful as possible. Over to you, National Treasury.

Jason Lakin is senior programme officer and research fellow with the International Budget Partnership. E-mail: [email protected]