New bill seeks to strenghten public participation

Kisumu protests

Protesters react to police officers at a roadblock during a demonstration in Kisumu on March 10, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

Heads of public entities whose agencies do not consult citizens when developing policies, laws and budgets risk a Sh300,000 fine or a six-month jail term should a proposal that’s currently before Parliament be passed into law.

The Public Participation Bill, 2023 which is sponsored by Turkana West MP Daniel Nanok seeks to provide a legal framework for effective citizen engagement in public affairs.

“The objective of the Bill is to enhance, promote and facilitate public participation in governance processes and ensure all public processes ranging from policy making, legislative process and ultimate decision-making involve active participation of the people,” reads part of the Bill.

The law shall also require State organs or public offices to prepare an annual report on public participation. “A person who contravenes a provision of this Act commits an offense and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine no exceeding Sh300,000 or a term not exceeding six months or both,” the Bill goes on to say.

The legislation was first published on September 1, 2023, before going through the first reading on October 12, 2023. It was thereafter referred to the Committee on Parliamentary Broadcasting and Library for consideration and reporting to the House.

The committee is still reviewing the proposals and is expected to table its report in the National Assembly.

Stakeholders including the National Treasury, Office of the Attorney General, State Department for Parliamentary Affairs, National Gender and Equality Commission, Council of Governors, Centre for Economic Governance, African Women Studies Research Centre have submitted their opinions on the Bill.

All the stakeholders emphasised the importance of passing the Bill into law to ensure constitutional guidelines are followed. The Bill seeks to have chairs of relevant committees in Parliament held responsible for failure to conduct public participation before making key decisions while the Chief Justice shall be responsible for the Judiciary, the same for the secretaries or chief executive officers of independent commissions or State agencies.

Cabinet secretaries shall be the responsible authorities for government ministries and State corporations or any other public body under their respective ministries.

For county assemblies, chairs of committees responsible for rules and procedures shall be the responsible authority while county secretaries shall be responsible for county executives.

“Each responsible authority shall develop guidelines for undertaking public participation in their respective institution,” the proposed legislation says. The National Assembly, Senate, and county assemblies will be compelled to establish guidelines for undertaking public participation in their standing orders and ensure that they are easily accessible to the public.