Embracing Social Accountability for Effective Service Delivery at the Counties
The recent general elections in Kenya saw the new county governments take office. The general public’s expectation is that as the country gets into the second five-year cycle of implementing devolution, service delivery and citizen’s welfare will be prioritized and enhanced.
Prior to the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, public service delivery was solely the responsibility of the national government, but this centralized system was found to be non-inclusive. To enhance efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery, the Constitution has placed public participation at the core of devolved governance system by recognizing the right of local communities to manage their own affairs in furthering their social, political and economic development. It is expected that with citizens participating in the devolved governance process, policy makers at county levels are more likely to make responsive policies. In this regard, social accountability has become key in ensuring that county governments deliver on their responsibility as stipulated in Schedule IV of the Constitution.
In promoting social accountability, Article 174 of the Constitution advocates for active engagement of the citizens, communities and other non-state actors in county governance processes. Further, Article 10 identifies public participation as one of the national values and principles of governance. The legislature and executive at both national and county governments are required to engage individuals, governmental and non-governmental groups in policy making, monitoring and implementation. These requirements serve to strengthen the voice and capacity of the general public in demanding greater accountability from public service providers at the county level. This is achieved by holding public institutions and governments into account by the general public. Ordinary citizens and other interested organizations seek to enforce standards of good governance and performance by the public officers. This kind of engagement is therefore expected to enhance transparency, reduce corruption, and support good governance, which are critical in strengthening effectiveness and efficiency in public service delivery.
In addition, there is horizontal accountability for public officers in county governments. The Office of the Controller of Budget exerts accountability on county governments by monitoring the use of county funds and implementation of county budgets. The Controller of Budget seeks answers and clarifications on management of public funds, and the accountable public officer responds to the raised concerns. Further, the County Assembly exerts accountability on County Executives on implementation of development projects. Public officers are expected to adhere to certain values and norms as articulated in the Leadership and Integrity Act 2012, and this forms the basis of holding a County Government and its public officers accountable.
Various legislations provide for establishment of structures, mechanisms and guidelines for citizen participation at County Government level. These include: the Public Participation Act 2016 that seeks to enhance, promote and facilitate public participation in governance processes, the Public Finance Act 2012, and the County Government Act 2012. In 2015, the Ministry of Devolution and Planning in collaboration with other stakeholders developed County Public Participation Guidelines to ensure that structured citizen participation processes for county governance are established.
Generally, structured social accountability mechanisms seek to ensure that the public, communities and organizations to be affected by a decision shall have a right to be consulted and involved in the decision making process. Of importance, though, is that formal accountability mechanisms instituted by government and external mechanisms of accountability instituted by citizens and civil society should be mutually reinforcing in enhancing efficiency in service delivery by county officials.
Social accountability uses various mechanisms to hold public officials, and by extension their respective County governments, accountable in using public funds and quality of public service delivery, including: Community Scorecard, Social Audits and Citizens Report Cards. Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys can also be used to track the flow of resources from the National Government to the frontline service providers at the County Government by assessing how allocated resources are contributing to improved service delivery. Further, citizens and non-state actors may establish independent citizen oversight committees or watchdog groups to improve public oversight. The non-state actors in such instances play the role of an intermediary between the citizens and government institutions such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Ombudsman and boards of public health facilities at the county level.
Social audit is commonly used to demand accountability from the County Government officers through performance management and oversight. Details of a public projects are scrutinized to determine the value for money invested in such projects and to evaluate how well public resources are used to meet the real needs of targeted beneficiaries. Public awareness meetings and public accountability forums are an integral part of the social audit process to get feedback from citizens. Social audits have thus served to empower citizens and communities by introducing them to evidence-based monitoring, encouraging them to ask questions and compel county officers to act on county lapses in governance. The poor and marginalized tend to be the greatest beneficiaries of effective social accountability mechanisms as they mostly rely on government services and are least equipped to hold public officers accountable.
Though public participation is a mandatory and continuous process for the county governments, it has faced some challenges. Funding for county social accountability programmes is often inadequate, and some counties have not given such programmes adequate consideration especially when preparing county integrated development plans. In addition, although the structures of social accountability exist, in some cases there is little commitment to making them work, and citizens feel locked out especially when meetings are postponed and there is no timely communication. Further, public participation is not an ingrained culture amongst the public officials, and this has seen delays in release of adequate and timely information to citizens. Moreover, awareness on social accountability among the citizens is low, and this has made it difficult to hold public officers accountable even in misuse of funds.
The benefits of enhanced social accountability are enormous. They include a higher level of citizens’ understanding of the process of formulating public policy, and developing integrated plans and budgets as envisaged by the legislative framework on devolved governance. As a result, citizens are able to appreciate the challenges or limitations that respective governments may face in delivering the development agenda, and therefore the need to prioritize demands. In addition, citizens may start to appreciate the essence of paying taxes, fees, charges and levies as part of revenue for County Governments. This notwithstanding, citizens need access to adequate information to be able to hold office bearers and service providers to account. They also need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities and the effective channels through which they can exercise them in order to have meaningful citizen participation.
To enhance social accountability, those in leadership positions need to actively engage the public by providing adequate time and resources for public to participate in the governance processes. It is also important to build capacity of the citizens and other non-state actors to understand their role in devolved governance. There is also need to train state actors to appreciate the essence of meaningful engagement in social accountability processes. Easy and timely access to verified and authentic information is critical in ensuring that all stakeholders are adequately informed for productive engagement. Moreover, a clear mechanism for public participation and communication channels between the citizens and county officers will enhance knowledge and understanding of the development issues and public processes. While public institutions and County Governments require enabling systems, mechanisms and frameworks to be in place, the extent to which social accountability achieves the intended objectives largely depends on how the public is organized and informed on the issues they seek to influence.
Author: Steven Nyamu Nduvi, Young Professional-Governance Division
Photo: Makueni County Public Participation Forum, Courtesy of Makueni County Government