Technology as an enabler of public participation rule
Last month, the National Assembly urged members of the public to submit their written memoranda on the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, National Assembly Bill No. 40 of 2020 that seeks to amend the Constitution to allow the President to appoint Cabinet Members from among MPs and to assign the Attorney General duties of a Cabinet Secretary.
Similarly, the bill creates room for governors to appoint County Assembly Executive Committee members from among Members of the County Assembly.
In addition to the memoranda, the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee has organised regional forums to facilitate public participation and take into account citizens’ views and recommendations in its report to the House.
The committee reached the decision for the regional forums in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.
One of the key principles of the Constitution of Kenya is the concept of public participation.
The constitution requires that the Executive and Legislative arms of government at both the national and devolved levels involve citizens in decision making processes.
The process of legislation such as the amendment of the Constitution is one of those processes that the law requires public participation.
Public participation is important because it ensures that citizens’ tacit knowledge is fed into the process of developing policies, creating ownership and legitimacy for the outcomes.
It also helps decision makers to know the complexities of existing social structures and how to adequately respond to the challenges.
All stakeholders have a role in entrenching citizens’ voices in decision making. Civil society organizations are critical in ensuring effective citizen engagement.
CSOs play an important role in facilitating platforms for citizens to organise themselves to advocate for their interests.
Government agencies are bound by the Constitution to involve members of the public in decision-making.
However, in most cases there are shortcomings informed by ineffective methods of collecting citizen views or partisan interests.
The need for public views on the Constitution Amendment Bill, comes amidst the Covid-19 pandemic that has forced the government to put in place stringent measures to protect lives.
Therefore, to engage citizens in the Constitutional (Amendment) bill, National Assembly Bill, there is need for stakeholders to explore non-physical means of engaging citizens.
This could be achieved by harnessing digital and traditional media and marry it with social science research methodologies, to generate insights that will enable the National Assembly’s Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee get to understand citizens’ views on the bill.
Citizens can be encouraged to share their views through means like short message services to a toll-free number.
The messages can be analysed using social science methodologies in order to make sense of them for Parliament’s consideration.
For effective deployment of digital media and social science research methodology to ensure inclusive public participation, there is need for the government, Parliament and non-profit organisations to collaborate.
The use of digital and traditional media will save on time, cut on cost, reach many participants, and reduce the risk of Covid-19 spread. — The writer is the Communications Assistant Africa’s Voices Foundation —[email protected]