The KSh. 2.6 trillion budgets read this week was fashioned around the majority poor, women and youth. The President was being smart considering the State of the Nation Address did not have the intended effect, after Kenyans questioned how the economy could be growing amidst hunger and humanitarian aid. This year’s budget seeks to appease the demography that tilts the scales in elections.
The budget that was read 3months early for the sake of the August Polls focused on food security issues allocating Sh.4.1 billion to provide cheap fertilizers to farmers and making sure farmers are insured by allocating another Sh. 700 million for that purpose. Farmers especially in Central Kenya have not been particularly happy with the Jubilee administration who felt they’ve suffered under this administration. The Miraa international ban incensed Meru farmers despite government previously allocating Sh. 1billion to cushion farmers, it appeared counter-productive.
The other challenge that farmers have faced despite the government’s good will is a proper implementation plan and widespread corruption. At the beginning of the Jubilee administration in 2013 the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) was embroiled in a court battle by a company-Erad General Suppliers and Contractors, which lawyer Katwa Kigen then blamed for the woes the NCPB was facing. But problems with this important body have refused to go away. Last year (2016) the government had to suspend 22 managers of NCPB over theft and adulteration of government-subsidized fertilizers. Until NCPB is thoroughly streamlined the government will continue losing money and farmers remain frustrated despite the budgetary allocations.
Kenyans who brave the long lines and scorching sun to vote have barely tasted pizza or lasagna. The closest they’ve come to these middle-class foods is French friez-prepared Jua kali-style also known as chipo mwitu. As such they heavily rely on maize flour, bread and wheat-especially for those making chapattis to sell in the slums. And the government got it right when it decided to exempt ordinary maize, wheat flour and bread from taxes. That’s the only way these group can see their lives change, it doesn’t matter what the country’s GDP reads – Mwananchi cannot eat GDP. If the common man can’t have his ugali or sell his chapati then the rest doesn’t matter-everything is deemed bad.
Also increasing the sin tax on expensive spirits up from Sh.150 to Sh.200 per liter is smart. These mostly affect the group that finds queuing to vote bothersome. It has less risks in terms of delivering votes for the incumbent.
The government is also likely to get the attention of majority youth who work informal jobs with low incomes after exempting those earning below Sh. 13500 monthly from the paying taxes. Indeed the poor breathe a sigh of relief after the budget announced parents will not have to pay the exam fees for Standard Eight and Form Four candidates. However, there’s need to follow up on the quality of education. Despite allocating Sh. 4 billion for free primary education and another Sh. 33 billion for free secondary education the quality standards have been falling particularly in schools where student teacher ratio is skewed such that a teacher handles more than thrice the recommended number of children.
This eventually affects the quality of pupils graduating to secondary and eventually the quality of students leaving secondary. If free education means poor education then there’s a need to re-look the strategy again for the sake of building a nation that can have a reliable youth for the future not just mere allocation of funds. We must desist from allocating money just for populist reasons and ask whether it makes sense or there’s any return on investment. Having said that allocating Sh. 2.5 billion for the school feeding programme is a good move especially ASAL areas where children are either motivated to go to school in the hope they will eat or avoid school to find food.
However, there’s need for a clear break down of the budget so that Kenyans can follow the money trail and understand exactly how their money is being spent. Again, mere mentioning of amounts allocated without a follow-up of a clear break down amounts to hot air.
Overall this appears to be a good budget; but it also appears to be an election budget. Which makes it even better if Kenyans-majority whom are poor can reap the benefits. The challenge however remains with the realization of the budget promises and the bureaucracy that only makes it possible for a few cartels to make a kill while the intended beneficiaries are left frustrated.