What you need to know:
- The Jubilee government has indulged in a borrowing frenzy that has everyone worried expect the principals.
- Close to a third of the Sh3.1 trillion annual expenditure this year is earmarked for debt repayment.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Mashujaa Day address was packed with reassuring facts and figures about progress that the country has made during the years that he has been in power. It was rounded off with an impressive list of instructions to Treasury to find an additional Sh25 billion or so to boost initiatives in education, youth employment, agriculture and health. He did not give any impression that finding this money was going to be a significant challenge. But it is.
Only obscurantists will deny that there has been laudable successes in many areas. Infrastructure remains the standout achievement, and there are many signature road projects that the President listed. There is the bittersweet story of electricity connectivity to homes that in the lead up to the 2017 General Election saw thousands of homes connected to the grid, but many of those now remain in darkness because families cannot afford to pay for electricity. And we all know the horrors lurking in the corridors of Kenya Power.
Despite the controversies surrounding the rollout of the Competency-Based Curriculum, many milestones have been recorded in the education sector. There are notable strides in health too, though the objective of universal health coverage will remain elusive for many years to come, as will his other key objectives of ensuring food security for all, providing decent housing and reviving manufacturing sufficiently to increase its contribution to GDP to 15 per cent by 2022 (from around 8.4 per cent in 2017) and generate employment opportunities.
Even if one were to discount the deleterious effects of Covid-19, it was evident from the end of 2019 that the Big 4 Agenda was too ambitious.
In this context, the Sh25 billion becomes a mild tonic to reduce the headache that will inevitably be handed over to either President Kenyatta’s Deputy William Ruto or the eternal challenger now turned ally, Mr Raila Odinga. Despite their frenetic campaigns, neither Ruto’s “Bottom-up” nor Raila’s “Azimio la Umoja” campaign platforms contain the silver bullet that will resolve the country’s most challenging issues, and which, sadly, will define Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy: the national debt, corruption and inefficient resource use.
The Jubilee government – in which Dr Ruto remains an integral part – has indulged in a borrowing frenzy that has everyone worried expect the principals. Close to a third of the Sh3.1 trillion annual expenditure this year is earmarked for debt repayment. Another trillion or so will finance recurrent expenditure while the balance will be shared between counties and development funding (about Sh675 billion this year).
Since tax is expected to bring in about Sh2.2 trillion, the balance has to be borrowed. So finding an additional Sh25 billion means either reallocating funds from other projects or borrowing. Neither is a pleasant prospect.
Hence the expectation that the scorecard of the past nine years would have acknowledged the precarious national debt situation and signal intent to fight the temptation to borrow and therefore live within the means of what we can generate and reasonably pay back; record the failure of government to arrest corruption and save the country billions of shillings stolen through irregular procurement processes; and signal the intention to introduce rigour in the management of functions of governments to reduce wastage and extract full value for every taxpayer shilling.
The President should have recommitted his last year in power to fight corruption with vigour and without mercy. There are innovative ways of speeding up prosecutorial processes to conclude corruption cases. People linked to or suspected of corrupt practices should not serve in public offices and should not run for elective posts. Lifestyle audits, starting from the presidency, should be meaningful interventions, not mere slogans.
President Kenyatta did not give any indication that this will change and neither did the gentlemen jostling to succeed him. The Deputy President was profuse in his praise of the boss, promising him that he would, if elected, guarantee a continuation of the trend set by the President, only tinkering a bit with the process by shifting some attention to the bottom of the pyramid.
Raila used the occasion to ingratiate himself with the Kikuyu community and demonstrate that he had the credentials to lead and protect their interests. But from his previously stated intentions, he too plans to continue spending money that our economy will not have generated even at the end of his first term, were he to be elected.
So it was a Mashujaa Day of contrasting realities, the President’s that was all rosy and exciting, and the public’s that was rather grim and with a future that for now remains uncertain.
The writer is a former Chief Editor of the Nation Media Group and is now consulting. [email protected]; @tmshindi