Need for clarity on strategy for the proposed housing levy and fund

Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary Charles Hinga

Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary Charles Hinga at a press briefing on the housing pillar of the bottom-up economic agenda at State House on May 24, 2023. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Effective communication is essential, especially for important policy matters such as the housing levy debate.

While the President has come out strongly to defend the thinking behind the proposal, the intricacies and implications of the proposed policies to the public are yet to be explained clearly. Is it a communication gap or was the levy idea flawed from its initiation?

The primary failure in the process is the lack of a clear communication strategy. There is significant information asymmetry between policymakers and the public on the matter.

The decision was not participatory, limiting access to relevant information. This information gap has created a situation where Kenyans are left uninformed or misinformed, leading to confusion, frustration and a lack of trust in the government’s intentions.

Transparency is vital for effective communication, especially in matters that directly impact citizens’ lives. The lack of transparency in the housing levy has, hence, contributed to the communication breakdown.

Kenyans need access to comprehensive information about the proposed policies, including the rationale behind them, potential benefits and possible drawbacks. The government has failed to make a clear value proposition for the housing project and they need to convince Kenyans that it is, indeed, viable.

There are some key questions that need to be addressed. What informed the government’s conclusion that housing is a priority for the citizens at this point? How was the decision on who to target for the three per cent deduction reached? How long will it be deducted for someone to actually own a house?

And, most importantly, is there a guarantee that everybody who pays the levy will get a house? The list goes on. Without answers to these pertinent questions and transparency in the way the issue is being handled, citizens are unable to meaningfully engage in the discussions and make informed decisions.

How it is conveyed

The effectiveness of communication depends not only on the availability of information but also on how it is conveyed to the public. This incident should serve as a lesson to the government on the importance of involving communication professionals in policy decisions before they are made public.

The government should have ensured that they have a clear communications strategy developed in advance to support the roll-out of the announcement ahead of time. 

This strategy would have ensured a proper stakeholder mapping exercise was done, the value proposition for the housing project defined and clear targeted messages developed for specific audiences. There should for example have been a clear strategy for managing communication with teachers who have a strong sacco and a culture of building their homes through loans. Did anybody consult them?

The biggest failure in the debate is the lack of clear messaging. It has been confusing and ineffective, leading to citizens feeling alienated. As a result, the public is detached from the discussions, making it challenging to foster meaningful dialogue and participation.

Another factor is the limited opportunities for public engagement. While public participation is crucial for a democratic society, citizens have often been excluded from decision-making processes.

Town hall meetings and other platforms for engagement have been minimal, preventing citizens from voicing their concerns, suggestions and perspectives. Lack of inclusivity weakens trust in the government and perpetuates the notion that decisions are not in the public’s best interests.

Media plays a significant role in shaping public opinion and driving conversations on important issues. The public often relies on it to inform and educate them. But on this issue, its influence has been marred by subtle sensationalism, bias and lack of depth in coverage. 

The government may come up with many policies, some of them stellar, but without proper communication and public engagement forums, they are an exercise in futility. Let it work with qualified communicators to help it to address the gaps and challenges in the affordable housing policy.

Ms Mwichuli is the CEO of the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK). @sylviamwichuli