President William Ruto moves to reverse Uhuru Kenyatta's policies

President William Ruto with the newly sworn-in Court of Appeal Judges.

President William Ruto poses with newly sworn judges of the Court of Appeal, from left, Joel Ngugi, Weldon Korir, Aggrey Muchelule and George Odunga at State House Nairobi on September 14. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has reversed over a dozen policies pursued by his predecessor, including restructuring government, revisiting cancelled multi-billion projects and entrenching populist measures as he fashions his administration.

In moves that appear to send a message that former President Uhuru Kenyatta got things wrong during his tenure, President Ruto has targeted several policies, directives and programmes that were at the heart of his predecessor’s administration.

Just inside two months since his inauguration on September 13, Dr Ruto has already reversed at least 16 key policies, directives and projects by his predecessor.

Last week, President Ruto’s government oversaw the reopening of 26 alcohol manufacturing firms that had been shut down by the previous government over tax disputes.

“That factory (Africa Spirits Limited) was paying about Sh50 million in terms of tax every month. They sent policemen there, shut it down, arrested Humphrey Kariuki – a very enterprising Kenyan, an honourable man, a man who has toiled through his life – locked him up for four days with ordinary criminals,” Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said at a Kenya Association of Manufacturers event.

The government has also reinstated Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor Paul Wainaina and the university’s council. Prof Wainaina had been sacked in August after refusing to surrender a 410 acres of the university’s land to the government for redevelopment and allocation to squatters.

His return is said to have come after parties involved in the dispute signed an agreement to withdraw court cases against him.

The President started stamping his authority once he was sworn in, with his first act in office being the appointment of the six judges rejected by President Kenyatta over alleged integrity issues. He also committed to increasing funding to the Judiciary, which had been starved of funds by the previous regime, to the tune of Sh3 billion annually for five years.

Next in line was reverting port operations and cargo clearance to the port of Mombasa. The previous regime, in which he served as Deputy President, had directed that all onward cargo arriving at the port be transported via the Standard Gauge Railway to the Embakasi and Naivasha inland container depots (ICDs) to increase the use of the railway in order to repay the construction loan.

Importers are now free to clear goods at the port or ICDs and transport them via road or rail.

President Ruto’s officials, including his Cabinet, have taken the cue and made a number of changes.KPA starts return of port services to Mombasa following Ruto order

SGR financial agreement

Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen on Sunday made public the SGR financial agreement between Kenya and China, a document the previous administration was not willing to make public, even after a court order and a public promise on live television by President Kenyatta.

The President has also reverted Kenya Railways and the Kenya Ports Authority to the Transport Ministry and Kenya Pipeline Company to the Energy ministry. The three had been put under the Kenya Transport and Logistics Network through a 2020 executive Order by President Kenyatta.

President Ruto, who campaigned on a platform of reducing the cost of living, immediately scrapped the fuel and maize flour (unga) subsidies set up by President Kenyatta’s government.

In his inauguration speech, President Ruto said the fuel subsidy programme had galloped Sh144 billion while the Unga subsidy had consumed Sh7 billion in a month yet the subsidised Unga was nowhere to be seen.

As part of his efforts to overhaul the security sector, the Head of State transferred the National Police Service’s budget from the Office of the President to the Office of the Inspector General of Police, saying that in the past, operations of the police service had been hampered by lack of financial independence.

He went on to disband the dreaded special service unit (SSU) accusing it of killing Kenyans arbitrarily. The special unit had been re-branded from the Special Crimes Prevention Unit in 2019 by former Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss George Kinoti.

“I am the one who ordered that the SSU, which was conducting extrajudicial killings, be disbanded. We have a plan on how to secure this country so that we avoid the shame of Kenyans being killed by the police and their bodies dumped in River Yala and others,” said the President.

The Kazi Mtaani programme, set up to provide work for young people to cushion them from the Covid-19 pandemic effects was abolished by the President last month. He said the work the youth will instead be engaged in the affordable housing project.

“We will have enough jobs for our young people without using them to collect garbage,” he said.

The programme had already gobbled up Sh1.3 billion in phase one and Sh2.4 billion and Sh5.6 billion had been earmarked for phases two and three, respectively.

In another reversal, the Kenya Kwanza government is set to revive the Sh56 billion tender to build the second terminal at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport that was cancelled eight years ago by reopening talks with a Chinese firm that had won the contract.

The tender was cancelled in March 2016 after Sh4.2 billion had been paid to the contractor in advance and Sh75 million spent on a ground breaking ceremony presided over by President Kenyatta on May 23, 2014.

The new terminal was expected to handle 8.7 million passengers per year.

Financial transactions

Further, President Ruto has said talks are underway with the Central Bank of Kenya to increase the financial transactions reporting limit, currently at Sh1 million, terming the existing directive as burdensome on genuine business transactions. President Kenyatta had also ordered that the limit be increased but the directive was not implemented.

Contributions to the National Health Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund will soon depend on the income of an individual if the President has his way.

This will be a marked departure from the current policy where NSSF contributions stand at Sh200 and NHIF Sh1,700 for those earning above Sh100,000 while the lowest paid contributes Sh150.

In October, President Ruto announced his administration will reduce its stakes in between five and 10 companies by listing them on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) within the next 12 months to raise much-needed cash.

“We will embark on privatisation of public corporations as a way to generate wealth,” he said. But he was not explicit on which corporations will be listed.

President Kenyatta had been reluctant to reduce the government’s stranglehold on key companies citing strategic, regulatory and national security reasons, declining to float its shares in various companies and parastatals that could have possibly raised Sh792.6 billion.

But nominated MP John Mbadi, an economist and the ODM party chairman, termed the decisions by the President as knee-jerk. He said the reversals are populist in nature without any serious economic thought behind them.

“The previous government was not Uhuru’s alone but the two of them and some of the policy reversals he is making have been there even when he was fully in charge as Deputy President. So I don’t understand how he will just wake up and say all these policies are now wrong,” said Mr Mbadi, who chairs the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee.

“I foresee President Ruto’s economic policies backfiring just like former UK prime minister Liz Truss if he is not careful,” he said. “You can’t run a government by faith, hope and prayer.”

But Mr Vincent Kimosop, an economist, disagreed, saying the changes by the President are not new or unusual as that is what happens when administrations change. He pointed out that the reversals need to be contextualised for a better understanding as some are political while others are economic.

“There will be those that are politically inspired as policies are also taken within a political context, especially as a campaign promise. So it would be wrong to paint all of them with one broad brush,” said Mr Kimosop.

Political commentator Javas Bigambo said that President Ruto is using his powers to show how different he is from his former boss.

“Although it may not be so much about a vote of no confidence in his predecessor, the decisions, however, might be implying that when he was serving as the Deputy President, he could have been providing several pieces of advice that were not heeded.

“Further, given the kind of treatment he was subjected to in the second term of the Jubilee administration, he could have developed some serious scorn for things that happened during the previous administration even though he was part of it,” said Mr Bigambo.

On the communication front, the President changed the Presidential Strategic Communication Unit (PSCU) to the Presidential Communication Service (PCS). In the changes, the Deputy Head of the PCS will serve as the State House spokesperson, a departure from the past when the head of PSCU also served as the State House spokesperson.