A woman sells vegetables along Naivasha – Nakuru highway, January 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

As Ms Phyllis Muhoro, owner of a mini-mart in Hunters, Nairobi, is interviewed, a lady saunters in and walks straight to the pastries section.

She samples the loaves then asks: “Kuna mkate ya 50 bob (Is there a loaf of bread worth Sh50?)” Ms Muhoro tells her the loaves of bread on the shelves go for Sh55. The shopper quickly exits the mini-mart. “See? This has been happening a lot. People are unable to buy a lot of goods, they look at the prices then exit,” she says.

With the budget set to be read on April 7, about two months earlier than usual, Ms Muhoro would have wanted to be among the voices the government included. “Children are home for holidays. Parents spend much more on food than they did. People cannot save; the excesses they used to have are now swallowed by the higher prices of goods and services they need daily. There is little disposable income,” she says.

She does not have the faintest idea of what Mr Ukur Yatani’s early budget will address. She is uncertain if the ordinary citizen will find help.

Metres away, Mr Elijah Muchina makes chapati and sells by the roadside. He is already flanked by customers. Right behind him, plastered to the wall, is an A4 piece of paper indicating price of chapati has risen from Sh10 to Sh15. “It is tough,” Mr Muchina says. “I’m now using a jiko because we cannot afford gas. A litre of salad oil that was going for just over Sh100 a year and a half ago now costs Sh320. Ten litres retailed at Sh1,000; now it is almost at Sh3,000.”

If he could, Mr Muchina says, he would have asked the government to address the issue of the cost of cooking oil, and of flour, which has risen from Sh1,200 a bale to Sh1,800.

But he feels that his concerns, and those of others like him who are suffering will not be addressed. The budget reading does not give him hope that the issues that concern him will be addressed. If anything, he fears the situation may worsen after the budget is read.

The process of budget preparation involves, by law, participation of public. A National Assembly booklet on the role of the public in the budget process published in 2017 says the public has a right to participate in the public finance matters of the republic, including the budget-making process “as explicitly required in the Article 221 of the Constitution and through other fundamental provisions such as those on people participation”.

“Specifically, Article 221 (5) mandates a committee of the National Assembly, in discussing and reviewing budget estimates, to “seek representations from the public and the recommendations shall be taken into account when the committee makes its recommendations to the National Assembly”,” reads the booklet.

Business analytics consulting firm Mentoria Economics’ Chief Economist Ken Gichinga says the voice of the ordinary Kenyan is often bypassed. “The ordinary citizen needs a business-friendly environment, which is currently not the case. The tax and regulatory requirements are stifling businesses across the country. Parliament, which should represent the voice of the people, appears to be more preoccupied with elections,” Mr Gichinga says.

When the forums of public participation are offered, lobby groups for corporates and big manufacturers appear and are heard. They ultimately have a voice and influence decision. The common man, however, is either unaware of the public participation or strongly feels they won’t muster the voice required to see their views prevail.

“There are forums for public participation but the levels of engagement do not meet the threshold as contemplated in the Constitution. More work needs to be done. Information needs to be presented to the public in a way that is accessible for there to be meaningful engagement. For example, even among the MPs, there is division around the true level of Kenya’s public debt. Some say it is Sh11 trillion, others Sh8 trillion. All these confuse the average citizen,” he says.

Mr Gichinga says there is a ray of hope for those who feel neglected. “Given this will be the first year where matters economy policy will impact the general election, there is a likelihood that the politicians will be keen on addressing the plight of the citizens. That is the saving grace,” he says.