Why Uhuru faces uphill task to fulfill Big Four agenda

Galana-Kulalu irrigation project in Tana River and Kilifi counties. It was to be a model farm to ensure high maize yields. It collapsed. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • To finance these ambitious projects, Treasury has broadened the tax base as they seek to increase revenue to help fund the budgets.
  • Some critics have also questioned the rationale of government building houses for the public, a task that is usually left to the private sector.

In his Jamhuri Day speech on December 12, 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled to the public the priority areas that his government would concentrate on during his second term.

They were food security, provision of affordable housing, improvement of the manufacturing sector, and provision of affordable universal healthcare.

The Big Four Agenda, as they are known, were supposed to define his overall presidential legacy after a tumultuous first term from 2013 to 2017 during which his performance was assailed by the Opposition without respite as being below par.

To achieve the President’s dream, Treasury has allocated billions of shillings of development budget to projects under the Big Four.

For the financial year 2019/2020, Treasury has allocated Sh450.9 billion to the projects, according to budget estimates that were tabled in Parliament last week by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich. This marks a Sh50 billion increase from the current fiscal year.


However, even as Treasury dedicates more resources to the President’s pet projects, many are questioning whether they are deliverable within the remaining three years of his term.

Renowned economist David Ndii and a critic of the Jubilee administration contends that many of the projects initiated by President Kenyatta's administration are at risk of collapsing ahead of the 2022 polls.

On Friday, he tweeted: "Shortlist of hare-brained projects that will not survive UhuRuto 'Tano Terror': SGR white elephant, Huduma Namba, Big Four and new curriculum.”

In February, Parliamentary Budget and Appropriations Committee expressed doubt on Treasury’s budgetary allocations to the Big Four Agenda.

“The concern is whether these expenditures provided are enough to achieve any meaningful outcome and whether the implementation are fully equipped for the task ahead,” the committee chaired by Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wa said.


To finance these ambitious projects, Treasury has broadened the tax base as they seek to increase revenue to help fund the budgets, a move that has been criticised by some economists as being hurtful to mwananchi.

For example, last year, the government passed a bill that lifts the rate for companies with an annual income of more than Sh500 million ($4.9 million) to 35 per cent, the highest in the region.

Furthermore, the bill abolished tax holidays for investors in special economic zones and export-processing zones and proposes foreign companies pay demurrage charges for delays.

Perhaps the most ambitious and controversial of the Big Four Agenda is the plan to build 500,000 low-cost houses within the remaining three years of President Kenyatta’s term.


The project has ran into headwinds and public opposition as employees and employers, who are supposed to contribute 1.5 per cent of their salaries towards a housing levy fund, have put up strong resistance.

Part of the problem is the failure to win the trust of a public that is ever wary of surrendering its hard-earned cash to the government, fearing that it might be lost to corruption.

Some critics have also questioned the rationale of government building houses for the public, a task that is usually left to the private sector.

During a television interview a month ago, former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo said: “I am telling these guys in Parliament, the government has no business building homes.”

The result of this open public opposition to the housing project is multiple cases that have been filed against the government from effecting the housing levy deductions, which was to begin last month. No doubt the cases will further push back the roll out of the project.


Terming the President’s project as being too ambitious, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said President Kenyatta would have to deliver 250 houses every day, an equivalent of an economic and engineering miracle, to realise his pledge.

To achieve food security, according to the Big Four Agenda blueprint, the government aims to increase Kenya's maize production from the current 40 million bags to 67 million by 2022 and potato from 1.6 million tonnes to 2.5 million tonnes over the same period.

However, collapse of the ambitious Galana-Kulalu irrigation project in Tana River and Kilifi counties has dented the government’s ambitions to bring more arable land into production.

The project — which was revived during the President’s first term to be a model farm to ensure high yields in maize-producing areas — sunk, having gobbled more than Sh7 billion with little to show for it.


Despite all its well-meaning efforts, food security has proven elusive under President Kenyatta’s regime.

Thousands of Kenyans - especially in parts of Rift valley, Eastern and North Eastern regions - were faced with starvation this year despite the government’s repeated pledge that no one would die of hunger.

In an effort to boost the local manufacturing sector, the government said it hoped to assemble phones, TVs and laptops, and start an IT entrepreneurs programme and an innovation ecosystem of incubators and accelerators which could create 10,000 jobs.

“Though we may not be out of the woods yet, we have witnessed over the past year solid measures towards bolstering capacity for local industry to thrive,” said Mr Sachen Gudka, the chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, in a newspaper article last December.


Lastly, the government hopes to push universal health coverage from the current 36 per cent to 100 per cent in 2022 when the population will be estimated to be 50 million.

To this end, the government aims to reconfigure the National Hospital Insurance Fund, which, besides digitisation, will also extend services through 37,000 bank agents.

Theoretically, the President still has three budget cycles (2019/2020, 2020/2021, 2021/2022) within which to push and deliver on his legacy projects.

In reality, however, he has two cycles within which to deliver, given the fact that his last financial year will be heavy on the cost of the 2022 election.


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