President Uhuru Kenyatta unwrapped a basket of goodies for economically battered Kenyans in his last Mashujaa Day speech that was marked by conciliatory overtures and a catalogue of legacy projects that have defined his two terms as Head of State.
The highlights of the reliefs included immediate lifting of the Covid-19 night curfew that has lasted for nearly two years, a multi-billion shilling economic stimulus package targeted at critical sectors of the economy, policy interventions for the youth and an ease in the cost of fuel and electricity in the next two months.
The Wang’uru Stadium in Kirinyaga County, where the fete was held, erupted in cheers as the President announced immediate lifting of the 10pm to 4am curfew as a pandemic-weary nation sighed a collective sigh of relief on seeing the end of a restrictions that has disrupted life and killed thousands of jobs.
“With significant progress registered in the containment of Covid-19, it is now time to shift our focus from survival to co-existing with the disease. In that regard, my administration will be rolling out the third financial stimulus programme, designed to accelerate the pace of our economic growth and to sustain the gains already made,” said Mr Kenyatta at the event attended by Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, Deputy President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga among other dignitaries.
President Kenyatta announced a raft of wide-ranging financial and policy interventions in agriculture, health, education, drought response, infrastructure, financial inclusion, energy and environmental conservation targeted to help counties to recover from the Covid-19 economic shocks.
The containment measures, including the curfew, travel restrictions and closure of entertainment spots had a debilitating impact, with the aftershocks sending the economy into recession.
Kenyans have shown resilience amid the disruption, but President Kenyatta warned that the falling infection curve can only be sustained with acceleration of the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination across the country.
He acknowledged that Covid-19 has no cure in sight, and called for new ways of thinking to manage the crisis as well as the economy.
The stimulus plan will be rolled out beginning next month to boost economic rebound.
Details of the plan place farmers as the biggest beneficiaries with the tea, coffee, sugar and livestock sub-sectors getting a combined Sh5 billion to boost performance and improve food processing.
To improve access to health services and achieve the Universal Health Coverage targets, Mr Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Health to establish an additional 50 new Level 3 Hospitals.
“These will be situated in non-covered areas and densely populated areas across our nation. I further direct the National Treasury to allocate Sh3.2 Billion for immediate construction of the medical facilities,” he said.
The third phase of the Kazi Mtaani, a programme geared at integrating jobless Kenyans in urban hygiene and sanitation work across informal settlements in the country, will get an additional Sh10 billion.
The programme covering over 200,000 youths will be rolled out to all counties, with priority given to densely populated areas.
In a country where 75 per cent of the population is under 35, Kenya continues to grapple with high rates of unemployment. The Kazi Mtaani programme offers sustenance income to jobless youths.
On energy costs, the president ordered the Ministry of Petroleum & Mining, jointly with the National Treasury, to develop a framework for stabilisation of petroleum prices before end of the year.
“This will cushion Kenyans against the turbulence caused by the volatility in fuel prices,” he said.
"Additionally, the Ministry of Energy shall secure the full implementation of the Report of the Presidential Taskforce on Review of Power Purchase Agreements,that establishes a pathway for the reduction of electricity prices by 30 percent by December 24. I therefore look forward to Kenyans being relieved of the burden of high tariffs by Christmas Day,” he said.
Small businesses that have suffered financial starvation and the risk of closure as a result of the hits they took at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic were big winners after the government reviewed the implementation of cash transaction requirements by banks.
Mr Kenyatta said while his government remains committed to anti-laundering efforts, the requirements for financial institutions to report cash transactions above USD10,000 (Sh1 million) has inhibited their growth.
“Cash still remains an important payment channel for MSMEs, representing 80 percent of all their financial transactions.
In this regard, I hereby further order the National Treasury, after consultations with other stakeholders, to immediately cause the upward revision of the cash transactions reporting threshold from the current mark of Sh1 Million applicable to both withdrawals and deposits by customers. The financial institutions will retain their reporting obligations to the Financial Reporting Centre,” he said.
A moratorium on listing in Credit Reference Bureaus MSMEs with outstanding loans of less than Sh5 million for a period of one year will offer breathing space to small businesses struggling under the weight of bad debts.
“Further, borrowers with loans below Sh5 million listed with CRBs from October 2020 to date will not have that listing incorporated in their credit reports for the next 12 months ending September 2022,” Mr Kenyatta said.