Why Mombasa traders feel left out of public participation forums 

Majengo Market

Traders outside Majengo Market in Mombasa in this photo taken on February 25, 2024.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Miraa and Muguka traders to now start paying Sh80,000, up from Sh24,000 a year.
  • Civil societies also blamed the County Assembly for failing to oversight the executive.

For the past week, Mombasa traders have been up in arms over new levies imposed by the County Government in the Mombasa County Finance Act, 2024.

The new levies targeting new revenue streams include alternative accommodation owners who will pay Sh25,000 yearly depending on the number of rooms and Miraa and Muguka traders whose levies increased per seven-tonne truck.

Miraa and Muguka traders, who have come out guns blazing against the new rates, will now start paying Sh80,000, up from Sh24,000 a year.

These new charges in the Act have raised a storm in the Coastal city.

On one hand, traders claim they didn't receive a notice about the new taxes from the county government, while the county officials insist that public participation meetings were held.

This comes when the National Assembly is commencing public hearings for the 2024/2025 budget estimates.

So, what does it mean to hold public participation forums?

Public participation is a constitutional requirement. Specifically, Article 1 of the Constitution states that sovereign power belongs to the people.

Sections 87 to 92 and 115 of the County Governments Act, 2012 outline the principles of public participation and the imperative for facilitating public participation in the work of the County government.

Public participation is a structured way of consulting with persons, groups and entities before making decisions affecting them.

In the case of a county government, public participation is designed to give a voice to the voiceless and cements the concept of agency to the County Government. That is, the county government becomes an agent of the people.

Public participation does not convey decisions already made but generates and confirms decisions. It is not a political process but a non-partisan process that involves the agent going to "take instruction and direction" from the people.

Mombasa Deputy Governor Francis Thoya said announcements across several media outlets, including social media pages managed by the Mombasa County Government communication teams, were made before the public barazas.

He says the forums were held in the first week of April on the dates and venues stated in the announcements in all six sub-counties.

However, the deputy governor admits that attendance is often wanting, and this points to why complaints always arise at the implementation stage of the proposals.

“Fact is, the public is increasingly becoming less interested in engaging in public participation. Mombasa residents no longer come for public engagement, the few who turn up there are just our friends, hecklers and busybodies,” said Thoya.

“So what happens later? Immediately after those engagements were over…people who did not attend said they were not aware a decision was passed.

They see a gazette notice and start shouting,” he added.

He said counties have the capacity on matters to deal with public participation, but civil society should be brought on board to enhance citizenry participation in the forums.

Human rights activists led by Lucas Fondo said public participation is paramount in a democratic country.

“We always sensitise and mobilise members of the communities to attend the forums to put their voices in all the county planning documents, policies formulated so that we have a democratic society,” said Fondo.

Fondo, who is also a member of the county budget and economic forum, said after communities give their memorandums and views, the county government should retreat, analyse the views, pick the relevant ones and include them in the final document.

There is a feeling among the public that their views are never factored into the final decisions, so such forums have lost meaning.

The Deputy Governor said mechanisms should be put in place to ensure public views find their way or answers provided as to why they were disregarded.

“The government must explain to the people why it did not consider their views. This will develop the citizens' interest in public participation," he said.

“This is also a concern. Let’s be candid, we need to understand where the problem is. We have problems in all the stages, first people don’t attend the forums and secondly, when they come their input gets nowhere. Eventually, some other things emerge by the end of the day,” said Thoya.

Agenda Kenya Civil Society leader Otieno Obiero said residents perceive the public participation as a political rally.

“Public participation is conducted in a way that depicts it as a political process. People partake in it as a political public rally hence they should be paid to attend. When there’s no money they don’t attend,” he said.

He said Kenyans don't understand why it’s important to attend the forums.

Residents also don’t get the documents to analyse at least a week in advance as required by law.

Civil societies also blamed the County Assembly for failing to oversight the executive.

“The previous budget 2023/2024, we were shocked when the county assembly came for validation for a document that was not subjected to public participation. They have failed,” said Johnstone Kalama, from the Kwacha Africa organisation.

Human Protection and Justice organisation official Rokie Peter said the County Attorney should advise the executive on the legal proceedings that are supposed to be taken.