There's no money to pay you, President Ruto tells doctors

President William Ruto

President William Ruto speaking at the Uhuru Gardens Nairobi on May 1, 2024, during the 59th International Labour Day Celebrations.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has reiterated his resolve to bring more Kenyans into the tax bracket even as he once again dismissed intern doctors’ push for more pay.

The President said the government cannot live beyond its means and asked the medics, who downed their tools more than 40 days ago, to go back to work.

Speaking during the 59th Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi, Dr Ruto said the government has so far addressed 17 out of the 19 grievances raised by the doctors.

“It is possible for us to have an agreement. I am asking our doctors, that we have tabled what the government can meet. Out of 19 issues, the government has agreed to meet 17 issues, and the remaining two are pending because of the current financial constraints,” President Ruto said.

“We need to tighten our belts and live within our means as a country in order to make more resources available to manage our economic challenges and to invest in goods and services that benefit all, not just some citizens. It is neither just, proper nor reasonable for any group to make demands that run counter to this imperative, elevate their claims above legitimate benchmarks or exceed our economic capacity,” said the President.

President Ruto: Calling me 'Zakayo' is not a problem, as long as we pay taxes

He added: “I want to urge workers, including our daughters and sons who are doctors, that as social partners we must swiftly address the pertinent issues at hand ensuring that essential services continue uninterrupted, and our commitment to serving our citizens remains unwavering.”

New taxes

And while commenting on the new taxes, the President said not even being given the nickname of Zakayo to mock him or equate him to the biblical tax collector would dissuade him from aggressively ensuring people pay taxes.

Dr Ruto reminded Kenyans that the country cannot develop without its citizens paying taxes, adding that development does not occur miraculously.

“Kuitwa Zakayo sio jambo, bora tulipe ushuru. Zakayo ni jina, hakuna problems, na tunaweza kusonga mbele. Bora tujenge Kenya hii, watu wapate nyumba, tuwe na universal health coverage, vijana wetu wapate ajira (to be called Zakayo is not an issue, as long as we pay our taxes. Provided that we are building this country, people are getting affordable houses, have universal health coverage and our youths are employed, then Zakayo is just but a name),” Dr Ruto said.

President Ruto: We are not elected to be popular, we are elected to serve

On job creation, the President noted that the pace at which jobs are created in the country is lower than the rate at which new workers are entering the job market.

“Every year, one million workers enter the job market in Kenya, while only 200,000 are absorbed into formal jobs, both in the private and public sectors. Labour migration is, therefore, a critical component of our socio-economic development, benefiting both Kenya and the countries that welcome our workers.”

Minimum wage

The President at the same time ordered relevant government departments to work on delivering a six per cent increment of minimum wage.

“I want to ask our Labour CS to call the committee which is concerned and sit down. Let us have a minimum wage increment of at least six per cent, and you will let me know how that will be reached,” Dr Ruto said.

Earlier on, Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) boss Francis Atwoli had asked the President for a 22.5 per cent increment on the general wage as it happened in 1972 to cushion workers from harsh economic realities.

The President maintained that the government will continue sending workers abroad, including the youth, as his government continues to call for better working conditions and updating labour laws to protect all workers in the current evolving job market.

He also reiterated that his housing project will continue, and that in Nairobi County alone, the government is planning to build up to 7,000 houses every year. Dr Ruto said that the government’s housing project will bring to an end the frequent displacement of families whenever floods hit the nation, and that by the end of five years, one million new home owners will benefit from the project.

“Before the end of this year, you will see the houses that I launched last year because majority are ready. If seeing is believing, you will be able to see so that you can believe that we are serous on the housing plan, ” he said.

The President also asked leaders in various positions in the country to be part of the solution, and not to criticise the government.

He said that going to the streets will not resolve the problems that Kenyans are facing, and that since he took over leadership, prices of commodities have dropped significantly.

Additionally, the Head of State asked leaders to avoid politics of ethnicity whenever they are addressing Kenyans.

“I want to ask the citizens of our country, especially those of us who have the privilege to be leaders, to desist from dividing Kenyans along tribal lines. That is retrogressive, that is primitive, and that takes us backwards,”the President said.

But on the ongoing doctors’ strike, the President and the Head of Public Service, Mr Felix Koskei, who led the negotiations, appeared to be speaking in different tones since Mr Koskei had said the medical interns’ issue had not been tackled because the matter was in court.

“This issue that they are insisting that we resolve is a matter in court and our hands are tied. The counties have handled what was within their mandate, while the national government has done the same. The remaining matter is in court,” Mr Koskei said.

In the meantime, KMPDU insists that doctors are committed to safeguarding the 2017 CBA and that they will not compromise on the posting of medical interns.

The 19 issues that the doctors had tabled included the implementation of the 2017/2021 CBA, perennial salary delays, non-remittance of statutory deductions and insurance premiums, comprehensive medical insurance for all doctors, employment of all doctors currently unemployed and provision of adequate personal protective equipment in all healthcare facilities.

The doctors also demanded that doctors receive postgraduate training and be promoted to the right job groups, for all interns to be posted, creation of a health service commission, and call allowances for medical practitioners in universities, among others.

“I wonder why when it comes to doctors’ issues, then the wage bill and the country’s financial muscle conversation comes up, yet the country has the money to spend on other matters. We are also asking for our rights. We just want the 2017 CBA implemented, pay and post the medical interns, is that too much to ask for?” Dr Davji Atellah, the KMPDU secretary general asked.

His sentiments were echoed by the former KMPDU secretary-general, Dr Ouma Oluga, who indicated that the President and Health CS Susan Nakhumicha were being dishonest.

“The CBA was to be in place until 2021 after which a new one was to be put into effect and since that did not happen, it means the 2017 CBA is very much in effect and in fact the court has made that pronouncement,”he told the Nation in an exclusive interview.

Permanent vs contract

Meanwhile, workers unions want Public Service, Performance and Delivery Management Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria to apologise over his proposal to convert workers from permanent to contract to address the ballooning wage bill.

Uasin Gishu Cotu chairman Peter Odima said it was unfortunate for Mr Kuria to suggest that all civil servants in the country be hired on contract.

Speaking during Labour Day celebrations in Eldoret, the workers’ representatives criticised Mr Kuria’s proposal as a setback to the gains of reforming the labour sector in the country.

“Some of these Cabinet secretaries want to kill the efforts of President Ruto to foster good working relations with workers’ unions,” said Dr Evans Makokha, a member of the Uasin Gishu County Workers Union.

And in a low-key Labour Day event marked at the Kitale ASK grounds, workers’ union officials warned the government against mishandling workers in the country.

“We want the government to respect workers and not to make illegal pronouncements without even public participation,” said Kenya National County Government Workers Union County Union Secretary Eliud Navimba.

Reporting by Leon Lidigu, Mercy Chelang’at , Kevin Cheruiyot, Titus Ominde and Evans Jaola