Confronting reality: President William Ruto abandons populist election promises

President Willian Ruto with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at State House

President Willian Ruto with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at State House in Nairobi where the two leaders held bilateral talks and witnessed the signing of MoUs on technology, climate change and skills development on Thursday. 

Photo credit: Courtesy | PPU

What you need to know:

  • On the campaign trail, Kenya Kwanza isolated election promises dubbed 'quick wins' to be implemented within 100 days to six months of winning power.
  • But eight months into office, most pledges are unfulfilled as President William Ruto confronts the reality of government and balancing competing national interests.

With the reality of competing governance interests dawning on President William Ruto, his administration seems to have abandoned populist pledges made on the campaign trail to win the hearts and minds of voters.

And apart from abandoning specific populist promises, whose timelines have since lapsed eight months since assuming office, the President is pushing unpopular measures, including additional taxes on fuel, which he had promised to scrap.

Riding on a hustler wave fuelled by discontent with high cost of living, Dr Ruto fashioned a manifesto – The Plan – that he billed as the antidote to misses by his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta.

In the manifesto were quick wins that were to be implemented within set timelines of between 100 days and six months of coming into office.

Once in power, he swiftly honoured the pledge to the Judiciary by immediately appointing six judges his predecessor had refused to swear into office.

The Head of State also implemented the Judiciary Fund, with a promise to scale up the budgetary allocation to the Judiciary by an additional Sh3 billion annually for the next five years.

The President also signed an Executive Order giving the National Police Service (NPS) financial autonomy, with the Inspector General as the Accounting Officer.

Delinking the police budget from the parent ministry fulfilled Dr Ruto’s pledge to free the law enforcement agencies from executive stranglehold.

But the President has not only failed to honour some of the other pledges, but has chosen a completely different path from the picture he had painted while on the campaign trail, with the controversial Finance Bill 2023, which imposes higher taxes – including 16 per cent value added tax – on fuel.

However, the President has defended his administration’s tax policy, saying the new levies will marginally increase the tax as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) from 14 per cent to 16 per cent, which is way below Kenya’s peers in Africa, where tax percentages are between 22 per cent and 28 per cent.

The President Ruto has consistently cited the Sh3.5 billion subsidised fertiliser and Sh25 billion pumped into the economy as incentives for unga, cooking oil, rice and beans as part of efforts to lower the cost of living.

He has also held up hiring of at least 35,000 teachers as another progressive move his administration has made.

“I had to make difficult decisions since coming into office, like putting a stop to several subsidies that were being dished left, right and centre, as I found a country sliding into bankruptcy,” Dr Ruto has said in defence of his decision to scrap subsidies.

Again, while Dr Ruto had pledged his government would not be about creating positions for the elite, as had been proposed by his opponents through the Building Bridges Initiative, the Kenya Kwanza administration has increased the number of principal secretaries and retained chief administrative secretaries, a position established by his predecessor.

And he is also leading the push to establish the office of the Leader of Official Opposition, which he has defended in a memorandum to Parliament as one that makes “tremendous sense in terms of institutionalising governance, strengthening oversight and deepening democracy”.

“My agenda for Kenya needs more hands and minds, that is why I need the CASs. I also want my government to be held accountable and that is why I am against the ‘handshake’ because in a handshake situation there is no accountability,” the President has argued.

President Ruto named seven women to his 22-member Cabinet, which is far short of the 50 per cent share he had promised while on the campaign trail.

Accusing his predecessor of entrenching State capture, Dr Ruto pledged a quasi-judicial public inquiry commission within 30 days to establish the extent of cronyism and state capture.

However, protests linger about skewed public appointments, with critics lamenting the domination of two tribes in top jobs, which upsets regional balance.

The Anglican church recently decried the creeping in of tribal and regional appointments in the public service, terming the trend unacceptable. “There is glaring tribalism and cronyism particularly with regard to public appointments... This is not acceptable. Let all government institutions and offices be impartial and not simply beholden to political influence and serve all Kenyans with impartiality,” said Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit

However, President Ruto has said there are expectations of those who supported him during the campaigns and if a person has the qualification and is the best for the job, then he will give the job to them, their tribe or political affiliation notwithstanding.

“Why are we so obsessed with 10 or 20 people? Even if I appoint 20 people from a certain community nothing will change. Our focus should be how we can change the ecosystem to ensure we employ thousands of people,” Dr Ruto said.

Questions have also been raised on the independence of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in light of mass termination of mega-corruption and economic crimes cases against the President’s allies and those arrested during Azimio’s anti-government protests.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna has alleged the two offices are at the beck and call of the Kenya Kwanza administration.

But the President insists he has left independent offices to work without interference.

He has accused former DCI boss George Kinoti of politicising the criminal justice system. “Amin and Koome rarely receive a call from me to do anything,” President Ruto said in a recent interview, referring to DCI boss Mohammed Amin and police chief Japhet Koome.

The President had also committed to completing transfer of all constitutionally devolved functions to counties within six months of coming into office.

He restated the pledge during an induction event held for governors and their deputies in Mombasa a week after his swearing-in.

The process is in its formative stage and will only be completed next year, according to the Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee (IGRTC).

The committee has just completed the unbundling and costing of the functions that are yet to be transferred.

“We want to ensure that by the end of June 2024, we shall essentially close the chapter with regard to the devolved functions,” said IGRTC chairperson Kithinji Kiragu.

The President added that his administration would ensure that shareable revenue is transferred to counties in a timely and predictable manner and in accordance with the law. He reiterated the pledge in February this year.

Meanwhile, county governments are grappling with delayed release of funds by the Kenya Kwanza government, with at least Sh62 billion for March (29.6 billion) and April (33.3 billion) still outstanding while the May share was also due on May 15.

Last month, the Council of Governors issued a 14-day ultimatum to the government to shut down operations, citing an unprecedented four-month delay in funding from the national government.

“The four-month delay is unprecedented in the history of devolution and negates the spirit of the meeting held in Naivasha between His Excellency the President and the governors,” said CoG chairperson Anne Waiguru.

The two weeks’ notice was later withdrawn after the two parties reached a solution following the disbursement of Sh31.45 billion February allocation.

The President also pledged to determine, within 60 days, all judgments and orders against the government, and ensure that the government obeys all court rulings.

His promise to review security officers’ pay within 100 days has also been put on the back burner.

Further, the pledge to introduce a contributory benevolent fund for families of fallen and terminally sick officers in 100 days has not been implemented.

Dr Ruto had also promised to find a long-lasting solution to the disputes between counties and health workers within 100 days, but medics in several counties are on strike over various grievances, including unprecedented delays by counties to pay salaries.

Schools are also in dire financial constraints, with delayed release of capitation and non-payment of junior secondary school teachers topping the challenges despite a pledge to review basic education capitation to adequately fund schools within six months.

Kenya Kwanza promised to increase funding for free basic education, which covers both primary and secondary schools.

The Ruto administration had also promised to allocate more funds to implement quality education from ECDE to university.

However, a budget policy statement presented to Parliament by Treasury Cabinet secretary Njuguna Ndung’u showed the sector’s budget will be increased by Sh24.5 billion to Sh568.9 billion.

This falls short of the expectations in the sector, considering that the President had promised to double the budget for the school feeding programme and provide conditional grants to county governments in the government’s first year to facilitate construction of 250 vocational training centres in wards with none.

And while the Kenya Kwanza government had committed to devising a turnaround strategy for Kenya Airways within six months to wean the troubled national carrier off dependency on the Exchequer beyond December 2023, the first supplementary budget was silent on that pledge.

The budget actually cut State funding to KQ by Sh10.9 billion, reducing the bailout from Sh32.7 billion to Sh21.7 billion.

The National Treasury had tabled an additional Sh34.9 billion bailout to KQ in the supplementary budget for the financial year ending June 2023.

The pledge to transfer funds owed to the beneficiary counties and communities under the Mining Act 2016 and the Petroleum Act 2019 within six months, and work with county governments to increase the capacity of the communities to benefit from extractive resources is also lagging.

The National Treasury is yet to conclude the Public Finance Management (Royalty Fund Sharing) regulations – a legal instrument required to release the funds – in order to pave the way for the disbursement of mineral royalties to counties and host communities.

According to Section 183(5) of the Mining Act, the national government will be entitled to 70 per cent, the county government 20 per cent and the community where the mining operations occur will be entitled to 10 per cent of the revenue.

Of the Sh7.5 billion being held at the Treasury, Sh5.25 billion (70 per cent) is for the national government, Sh2.3 billion (20 per cent) for counties and Sh750.39 million for the communities where the minerals are mined.

The 10 broken election promises

1. Within the first 100 days, Kenya Kwanza will commission a review of remuneration and terms of service for all officers in the security sector to be commensurate with the cost of living.

2. We pledge to work together with the health workers and county governments to find a solution within the first 100 days of our administration.

3. Establishing, within 30 days, a quasi-judicial public inquiry to establish the extent of cronyism and State capture in the nation and make recommendations

4. Kenya Kwanza commits to develop a turnaround strategy for Kenya Airways within six months.

5. Determining, within 60 days, all judgments and orders against the government, and make sure that the government abides by all court rulings

6. Complete transfer of all functions constitutionally earmarked to counties within six months

7. Transfer funds owed to the beneficiary counties and communities under the Mining Act 2016 and the Petroleum Act 2019 within six months

8. Double the amount of money allocated to the school feeding programme to immediately raise the number of beneficiaries from two million to four million; and to provide conditional grants to county governments to extend the programme and raise the numbers to eight million in primary and Early Child Development (ECD) schools

9. Won’t create new executive positions because it’s the turn to look after the welfare of Kenyans and ensure 50 per cent of the Cabinet comprises women.

10. Immediately operationalise a National Health Information System for Electronic Health Records (EHR) to standardise and ensure the portability of patient data.