The over one million needy and other vulnerable persons who receive stipends from the Exchequer now face a difficult time ahead as the government proposes stringent measures to the law.
The proposed Social Assistance (Repeal) Bill, 2020, seeks to replace the principal law with the Public Finance Management (Social Assistance Fund) Regulations 2020, to be managed by the National Treasury.
Previously, it is the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection that has been in charge of the fund.
Already a section of MPs opposed to the amendment say it poses challenges for the intended beneficiaries accessing the fund as it escalates the already existing bureaucratic redtape.
MPs Godfrey Osotsi (Nominated) and Nelson Koech (Belgut) say that if the proposed Bill is passed in its current form, it will mean lengthy negotiations with the National Treasury before the funds are finally released.
“The passage of this Bill is likely to cripple the funding of deserving individuals and institutions,” says nominated Mr Osotsi.
According to Mr Osotsi, the parent ministries will cede the power to withdraw funds directly from their accounts to the National Treasury.
“This will only make the process unnecessarily long and tedious,” he says.
Section 37 of the Social Assistance Act that is targeted for repeal stipulates that at least three months before the commencement of each financial year, the National Social Service Authority (NSSA) shall cause to be prepared estimates of revenue and expenditure for that year.
However, this has never happened for the last seven years as the law was never implemented to establish NSSA.
The government has instead been disbursing Sh2,000 a month to each beneficiary via the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection under the Inua Jamii plan, a Consolidated Cash Transfer Programme (CCTP) to cushion the poor from suffering.
Poor children, elders who are vulnerable and above 70 years and those with severe disabilities are the listed beneficiaries of the fund started by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Of the entire list of the recipients, 294,581 are orphans and vulnerable children, 763,638 are older persons with 33,976 constituting persons with severe disability.
Even as the disbursement challenges loom, the meagre allocation has raised questions as to whether the fund will serve the intended purpose.
State Department for Social Protection Principal Secretary Nelson Marwa has previously announced the streamlining of the disbursement module, warning unscrupulous public officers and other illegal networks to keep off the cash in a move designed to restore sanity.
The Social Assistance Act was the brainchild of former Bomet Governor, the late Joyce Laboso, during her time as Sotik MP.
It was passed in the 10 Parliament and assented to by President Mwai Kibaki towards the end of his second and last term in 2013.
The Act sought to give effect to Article 43(1) (e) of the Constitution, to establish the National Social Assistance Authority to provide for the rendering of social assistance to persons in need.
The persons in this category include orphans and vulnerable children, poor elderly persons, unemployed persons and persons disabled by acute chronic illnesses.
The others are widows and widowers, persons with disabilities and any other persons as may be determined by the respective Cabinet Secretary in consultation with the board.
However, the law has never been actualised as intended.
Last year, the Public Finance Management (PFM) Act was amended to centralise the management of national funds at the National Treasury.
The amendment to the PFM Act led to changes to the Sports Act in 2018 that abolished the national sports fund and the national sports fund board of trustees.
This saw the establishment of sports arts and social development fund through the PFM (national government) regulations.
Mr Koech says that the new fund is already facing bureaucratic challenges that have since delayed funding to the sports sector in the country.
“The centralisation of the management of national funds may have been mooted to provide the government with an opportunity to utilise ‘idle’ money lying in the accounts of some funds to finance its operations, especially in times of cash flow challenges,” says Mr Koech.
Already, about Sh8 billion is lying idle in the accounts of the universal service fund that is under the Ministry of ICT’s Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK).
The source of the fund are levies from telcos operating in the country to fund universal access to the internet.
Early last year, Sh1.5 billion was withdrawn from the sports, arts and social development fund to fund Covid-19 interventions.