Research reveals challenges with public participation at the county level

By Taigu Muchiri

Dr. Dorothy Njoroge, an Assistant Professor of Corporate and Development Communication in the School of Communication, Cinematics and Creative Arts, presented her findings on mapping the citizen engagement strategies of county governments in Kenya on Thursday, March 4.

Having received an internal grant of KES 500,000 to conduct the research in 14 counties between April and August 2018, Dr. Njoroge sought to find out how county governments are conducting the public participation process, the challenges experienced and recommendations on how to improve the process..

According to her findings attendance to public forums organized by the governments continues to be low indicating such mass communication methods are not utilized optimally or do not reach the intended audiences.

These findings were corroboratd by county officials who bemoaned the low attendance at these these meetings, and how thence they are unable to conduct their business unless they attain quorum.

The constituents also indicated that poor infrastructure contributed to the low turnout. For example, weather roads limit them from moving from their homes to the county office to attend meetings during the rainy season. To counter this, county officials mentioned that they hold the meetings in convenient areas such as bus terminus or the market. This has shown to have great success because residents are not disrupted from their normal schedules.

The residents mentioned that there exists communication barriers in that the language used to communicate because only a handful of residents speak and read English at the county level. Most times, the process has to be conducted in Kiswahili or a local dialect.

Other reasons presented by the residents for not participating in the process include lack of awareness of how the process works and the information on pending forums is sent late or it is not received at all. Many residents say that the process is political and that it doesn’t address their needs and some say that the county targets specific people to send messages to attend the meetings.

The residents strongly expressed dissatisfaction in the deliberations during the exercise itself because it is largely controlled by leaders and they play a passive role. This has led to anger and disenchantment among the public while the Members of County Assembly (MCAs) blame lack of sufficient funds as the major constraint to effective public participation.

The residents expressed willingness to attend the meetings if they were more structured and included all members of the society especially the disabled. They urged the county government to conduct civic education on the process to attract more participation and encouraged an egalitarian relationship between the residents and the county leaders.

The 2010 constitution stipulates public participation in the law making process at the county level and all bills that are passed and implemented must be subjected to a public participation process to ensure inclusivity and ensure that the bill addresses the challenges of the constituents. However, this process has been a slow and lengthy presenting a challenge in its implementation. Both the constituents and the leaders put blame on the process and says that it is hindering development projects at the county level.

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