Strengthening civil society capacity to influence sanitation policies in Kenya

Strengthening civil society capacity to influence sanitation policies in Kenya

One of the key pillars of Kenya’s current constitution, which was passed in 2010, was the devolution of decision making powers to the sub-national level. While this means that governance has been brought closer to the people, capacity among civil society organisations (CSOs) to monitor their local governments remains weak. SNV works closely with Kenya’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a leading economic think tank, working towards the strengthening of local CSO capacity to monitor budgets and to hold county governments accountable for providing basic services such as water, sanitation and health (WASH).

In this interview, Raphael Muya, IEA Programme Officer, highlights some of the initiatives currently underway.

Can you describe some of the issues that CSOs face as they attempt to hold county governments accountable, specifically in the WASH sector?

One of the core issues we face is the low levels of budgetary allocations for sanitation at county level. Currently, the provision of sanitation services is poorly coordinated since this sector falls under the three different ministries: health, water and irrigation, and natural resources. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult to advocate for increased resources. It would be better if one ministry is assigned the overall responsibility for WASH coordination at county level. This will enable the county to allocate a specific budget code for sanitation, and this in turn is the starting point for better allocation of resources towards sanitation.

What can CSOs operating at the county level do?

The first step is to understand how budgets work: what the budget cycle looks like. This gives useful insight on the strategic moments to intervene and ensure that resources are allocated. But such understanding is hampered by limited access to information. At the moment, it is difficult to access actual appropriations from the county governments, let alone information on how the funds have been spent. Furthermore, no single county has posted its budget outlook paper for the coming year, which creates a major challenge for analysts.

But CSOs cannot simply give up. The Public Finance Management Act provides for members of the public to make public proposals for the forthcoming budget year. This is a good opportunity to bring forward budget proposals that are in line with the government’s own policies, for example Vision 2030 (the national long-term development. blue-print). There are some examples where such proposals have actually been taken up by the government. I recall one budget speech where the Minister of Finance mentioned that he had received a budget proposal from a student. It is important for county-based CSOs to have an understanding of the basic requirements for them to share policies with the county government, as well avenues to encourage their participation, such as the county budget and economic forums.

"What we are learning is that if you can show real evidence from the ground, county governments are willing to allocate resources."

How does IEA support CSOs to seize such opportunities?

The crucial period between December and February is a critical moment for budget submissions from interested stakeholders. In the past IEA used to convene at high sector level pre-budget hearings (for example manufacturing, tourism, education, food security or health), which would lead to the organisation producing a very large number of proposals. Today, we have changed our strategy to focus on producing compelling budget proposals known as citizens alternative budgets. We are currently working with partner CSOs in three counties to conduct pre-budget hearings with a focus on sanitation. These hearings are an opportunity to collate and synthesise budget proposals from different stakeholders and to identify and align key priorities. Our aim is not only to seek resource allocations, but to put forward concrete proposals on improved policy measures that the government should implement. To assist this process, we provided CSOs with sample budget memos that they can use to prepare compelling budget proposals.

Another entry point for CSOs to engage further in influencing and improving public policy is a public hearing, which begins after budget expenditure estimates have been tabled in the county assembly. This is a crucial moment for CSOs to engage with the authorities and to check whether their proposals have been taken on board.

So far we have trained CSOs in three counties in western Kenya, namely Homa Bay, Kericho and Elgeyo Marakwet. One of the support roles we provide is to facilitate roundtable meetings with the country Public Health Officer and members of the county health committee to explore what needs to be done to address sanitation challenges. And we are starting to see promising responses to these efforts. For example, the chair of the Health Committee in Homa Bay county revealed that they are keen to see a significant increase in the resource allocation for sanitation.

Are you confident that such interest will translate into real sanitation programmes on the ground?

We have to take it one step at a time. What we are learning is that If you can show real evidence from the ground, county governments are willing to allocate resources. This is especially true of sanitation which is not really taken seriously in public policies. In Kericho for instance, our SNV WASH advisors used photos of unsanitary toilet facilities to compel the authorities to act. However, one of the challenges we still face is the attitude of county assembly members towards CSOs. Many are suspicious and think that we are trying to investigate them. Effective engagement with local authorities will require a long process of building trust and trying to make small gains along the way. But at the same time, we need to lobby for greater access not only to information, but the right information. Without this we cannot be effective. On their part, CSOs also need to increase their awareness on how to engage with the authorities. Many see the government as a “monster” and fear being stigmatised if they speak out.

What are some concrete outcomes that the V4CP programme is working towards?

We have a number of indicators that we will use to monitor our impact. At the end of this project cycle for example, one of our goals is to ensure that all 47 counties are declared open defecation free (ODF). The target date for this is 2020. So we have a lot to do!

In terms of budget allocation trends, we would like to see a rise in allocations for sanitation. We will monitor, for example, how many budget memos proposed by our CSO alliances have been adopted and how many counties are implementing investment plans. To inspire all the stakeholders, we aim to hold public forums at county level. We will start by bringing sanitation champions, which has made tremendous progress in improving sanitation. Our focus will be trying to understand what sanitation champions have done differently. For example, how did they manage to channel adequate resources for sanitation and how are they adding value to sanitation investments, for example through sludge management?

At the national level, we plan to convene an inter-ministerial meeting to encourage all the concerned ministries to ensure better coordination of sanitation issues.  We will also continue to lobby county governments to finalise their sanitation bills and investment plans as this is the first step in ensuring sufficient budget allocations in the long term.

In 2017, IEA published a set of five policy briefs exploring key socio-economic issues for the national elections. One of the briefs addressed the topic ‘Water and Sanitation Policy as an Agenda for Elections 2017.’ All policy briefs can be downloaded at: http://www.ieakenya.or.ke/publications/bulletins/1/2017/06