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Connecting People and Ideas for Integrated Development

Inclusive Governance: Training Inspires Mechanism for Enhancing Citizen Participation

As the first legislative assembly clerk in Siaya County, Felix Olwero is the in-house administrative and chief accounting officer who oversees the assembly’s day-to-day operations. Before 2014, Kenya had only one national legislative assembly; adoption of a devolved system of governance introduced 47 county governments each with its own legislative body.

A pioneer clerk and long-time public servant, Felix fully understands the challenges involved in managing the assembly’s affairs. One of the key issues that Felix considered a challenge in Siaya’s county assembly operations was the low level of citizen engagement in the assembly’s activities. Although the Kenyan Constitution requires county assemblies to facilitate public participation in all their affairs, these new institutions have little experience and lack formal procedures to effectively manage processes for incorporating public input.

"In Siaya County Assembly we faced numerous challenges because we were operating without any policy framework to define the mechanisms and thresholds for implementing public participation. We did not know how to go about it and even lacked clarity on which department was responsible for managing the process," says Olwero.

Felix Olwero.

Felix Olwero during an interview at his office in the county assembly quarters.

This situation led to inadequate, haphazard or tokenistic efforts to include the public in deliberations, and many citizens felt that they had no real opportunity to influence county decisions and development outcomes.

"In the past few years, public participation mechanisms in Siaya have been ineffective and erratic. The county was not providing adequate and timely information to engage the public. The few times public forums were held, the process was disorganized and rushed did not give us enough time to understand and contribute to issues that affect us," says Wiclif Oduor, a youth group leader in the county.

In April 2016, SUNY/CID’s Agile and Harmonized Assistance for Devolved Institutions (AHADI) Program, USAID’s flagship governance activity, trained Siaya County Assembly members and staff on public participation and helped them to develop a policy framework to guide the assembly in engaging the public in a more effective and coordinated way. The county assembly has since started to publicize information about upcoming forums on popular radio stations to inform and mobilize more citizens to participate in governance issues. The county has also held several forums, particularly on the budget, and provided advance copies of the documents under discussion to enable informed participation of citizens in county processes.

As a result, both county legislators and the public are working together on a regular basis:

"There’s now more excitement and the quality of engagement has increased," says Olwero. "With the support we’ve received we now have proper structures that allow us to more effectively represent the interests of the people are in line with the Public Participation Act and the Constitution," he adds.

"There’s been a lot of change,” says Oduor. “We’ve seen a lot more transparency, engagement and organization in how the county engages with citizens especially around calendar-based issues like the county budget. We feel like our voices finally matter."

"We are really excited and thankful for the partnership and support we have received through USAID AHADI. This initiative will transform how our schools are run and will institutionalize efficient management of basic education in Kenya," says Odawa.

The purpose of the USAID-funded AHADI project is to help Kenya achieve the promise of devolution through a governance system that is more transparent, accountable, effective in service delivery, and responsive to empowered citizens.

See more of SUNY/CID's work in Kenya

Posted June 26, 2017