The High Cost of Politics in Kenya

Posted by on 11th August 2020

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On August 5th, Westminster Foundation for Democracy in partnership with Mzalendo Trust and the Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Democracy, launched a report on the ‘Cost of Parliamentary Politics in Kenya.’ The report sought to highlight the cost of seeking Parliamentary office in Kenya.

On average, it was revealed that, on average, a Parliamentary campaign cost between Ksh. 20M – Ksh. 35M. This includes campaign done for both the primaries and the campaign phase. The electoral process in Kenya was found to be quite expensive. It costs about Ksh. 2700 ($25) per voter.

Additionally, the report revealed that there are several factors that increase the cost of Parliamentary politics in Kenya. One of these is minimal party support where aspirants who vie for posts which are not of particular interest to the party do not receive adequate financial support. There is also the matter where political parties have not been receiving funds appropriately from the Registrar of Political Parties. For example, in 2019, only Jubilee and ODM were able to receive funds from the Ksh. 371M fund.

Respondents in the study stated that financial resources for the campaigns mostly came from personal resources and from family/friends contributions. This shows how discriminatory access to political office can be for those who are not from well-to-do backgrounds. In addition, there was the conclusion that party primaries were more expensive than general campaigns. This is because most of the funds went into paying nomination fees, purchasing campaign materials and the grassroots mobilization of campaign teams and voters.

Building on this, one of the main reasons for this exorbitant cost is due to the high expectations of voters on political aspirants. Due to the commercialization of politics & the knowledge that political aspirants are willing to spend significant sums to get elected the electorate expect politicians & political parties to compensate them for their support. The electorate seeks compensation for various purposes. These range from individual needs, such as sustenance & medical care, to community needs such as schools, health centres and roads. This first occurs on the campaign trail but the expectation continues to the office.

While this is largely caused due to issues of voter bribery, the large populace is not aware of the roles and functions of Members of Parliament and believe that wielding political power is the key to financial freedom. This causes a strain on Members of Parliament as they are unable to juggle the electorate’s financial expectations, their own personal goals and how to manage their public images.

Interestingly, just last week, Parliament passed the Parliamentary Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that seeks to impose a minimum pension of Ksh. 100, 000 for members of Parliament who served between 1983-2001. While arguing for an increase of their pension, Members in the House stated that they still received many requests for money from citizens even when they were retired.

It can be seen that the high cost of politics deters the active and meaningful participation of youth and women. Mzalendo Trust’s report released last year recommended that there is need for an adequate campaign financing legislation to put all parties, especially marginalized communities, at par. There is also need for increased civic awareness to ensure that citizens understand the roles and functions of their democratically elected leaders.

A surge in ‘Ills’ in the Time of Covid

Posted by on 9th August 2020

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By the time the country is declared Coronavirus-free, we might be dealing with another big scandal. This is according to media specialist Macharia Gaitho who shared concerns on the mismanagement of public funds during the launch of the findings of the impact of Covid19 on governance on 30th June 2020.
“One of the things that worries me is that times of crisis, for some people, provide an opportunity to enrich themselves. Every major scandal in this country has been around a crisis,” Mr Gaitho intimated during the webinar. Current circumstances surrounding the management of Covid-19-related funds show indications that a scandal could be indeed be brewing.
According to the ‘Action For Transparency’ website, a total of Ksh 194,663,072,350 has been raised as aid money so far to help fight the virus and its adverse socio-economic effects. However, these foreign and local donations are yet to be fully utilized as healthcare workers across various counties have threatened to down their tools citing salary delays and poor working conditions. Furthermore, nurses are demanding an increase in their allowances and requested to have them increased to match that of the doctors.
This threatens the already strained healthcare system as calls by medical associations to the government to hire more staff has consistently fallen on deaf ears. On 14th July 2020, Kenya buried the first doctor to die of the virus. Prior to and after this sad event, medics have continued asking to be facilitated with more personal protective equipment (PPEs) even as the number of positive covid19 cases continues to rise. The PPEs in question could be a subject of interest for the anti-corruption bodies as it turns the procurement process of the equipment is reported to have been done irregularly.
“This pandemic provides opportunities for very many to steal. You’ve heard CS Kagwe talk about the cartels at Afya house that he’s having to confront. Anytime there’s an emergency, the procurement processes are short-circuited because we need some of these things like yesterday and that creates opportunities for some. That is the nature of our country,” Mr Gaitho added. The crisis characterized by weakened institutions provides the conducive environment for a few to enrich themselves as the rest fight for their lives and livelihoods.
Already under normal circumstances, Kenya has tried to slay the corruption dragon in futility. Doing so under the prevailing circumstances may be next to impossible. That, however, does not mean that those charged with the oversight role altogether should despair and allow the greedy to thrive. A consensus was reached by participants in the webinar mentioned earlier that there has to be a joint effort between all arms of the government, media, civil society and Kenyans for there to be absolute transparency and accountability even as we work towards flattening the curve.
Corruption in Kenya is largely an institutional problem rather than a cultural one. So to count on the greedy growing a conscience that would force them to back away from stealing from taxpayers is clearly not an effective tactic. Upon solving the revenue allocation formula stalemate, the Senate should ensure that the monies reaching the counties are utilized for the purposes stated. This also applies to the conditional grants given to the counties specifically to fight Covid-19.
Parliament needs to not only act with speed but with the firmness that will weed out the corrupt and bring them to book.

It’s All Coming Back to Bite Us

Posted by on 29th July 2020

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The month of July has seen the highest number of confirmed positive Covid-19 cases and fatalities, painting a grim picture of the weeks to come as August and September are expected to mark the peak of the disease in Kenya. There currently is no light at the end of the tunnel, however long it may be. The country went from panic shopping for toilet paper and sanitizer, making memes from the press briefings, readjusting to the rules and regulations, processing deaths and night-time burials, dealing with police brutality and finally seeming unfazed by the growing number of cases and deaths.

How has the government responded to this? More stringent measures and unsurprisingly, more threats. Just two days ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta extended the nationwide curfew and ordered that all bars be closed for the next 30 days failure to which licenses would be withdrawn. This came on the backdrop of several Kenyans including elected officials being caught on the wrong side of the law, all in a bid to enjoy a drink. These actions have most definitely been condemned by the Ministry of Health officials and Members of Parliament that warned that the recklessness being displayed was bound to lead to even more infections. Which is true seeing considering most would ignore social distancing in those social settings.

The point being driven home by leadership is that to truly succeed in flattening the curve, we the citizens have to seriously embark on preventive measures. The challenge with this approach is that it is largely dependent on social behavioural change and spares the leadership from looking inward. Talk of the government scapegoating!

It would be unfair to place all the blame on Kenyans only. The social behaviour of Kenyans pales to the gaps and failures of the leadership in fighting the virus and its impact on all aspects of life. It is a fact that the virus originated from Wuhan, China. However, what led us to this point of thousands of ill Kenyans, a dying economy, halting of learning and general uncertainty? It is important for the government to self-evaluate and look at the opportunities they missed out on, past and present, that would not only prevent the virus from getting into the country but make it manageable.

“The Jubilee government has already delivered improved security, economic stability, jobs, expanded access to affordable health care and modernised public services. We must now redouble our efforts to build upon the foundations of success. The task is not yet complete. The work must continue and should not be derailed,” reads an excerpt of the first page of the Jubilee Party 2017 manifesto.

Had this vision been brought to life we wouldn’t be reporting thousands of positive Covid-19 cases and burying tens of Kenyans. Thanks to leaders’ incompetency, mass looting of public funds and poor accountability Kenya and her leadership is clutching onto straws to not only save lives but save face. Had the laptop project been implemented in full, thousands of learners would still be in a position to stay on track with the school year.

The Managed Medical Equipment System project, currently marred with irregularities, was an opportune moment for counties to enhance their health care services with more equipped facilities. But the multibillion project from the onset was bound to be surrounded by controversy given the way it was undertaken. There was little consultation with local leadership and the deals made were the least bit transparent. On top of this, different media reports have revealed that few counties are prepared to deal with the virus. In essence, devolution was meant to solve issues of county capacity but challenges that range from corruption to power struggles between the national government and county governments have stopped counties from realizing their full potential.

So it is hypocritical for the government to constantly call out Kenyans on derailing the fight against the virus as if their actions or lack thereof have not greatly contributed to the prevailing circumstances. It is then prudent for current and future leadership to realize that service delivery is a bare minimum that not only serves Kenyans on normal days but also prepares and cushions the country for such eventualities.

So when the leadership points a finger at Kenyans they should remember that three fingers point back at them.

MPs’ Poor Attendance in Committees is a Disservice to the Taxpayer

Posted by on 22nd July 2020

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A new report compiled by various committee clerks on members’ attendance in National Assembly Committee meetings paints a worrying picture of the casual nature of various legislators when it comes to performing their roles in Parliament. According to the report, 10 MPs did not attend parliamentary committee meetings from January to October 2019. Deliberately missing committee meetings for three months can be equated to an MP opting to stay out of the committees altogether, that is according to the Parliamentary Standing orders which stipulate that if a member fails to attend four consecutive sessions of the committee without written permission from the chairperson or the speaker, the Member of Parliament shall be replaced.

Committees have often been described as the engine roomsof Parliament because most of nature and load of the work carried out in committees. In brief, it is in the committees that concrete elaboration of the law is undertaken, budgets and expenditures for the executive approved, investigations on special issues carried out, public participation and proper scrutiny of policies and programmes to assess whether they meet the objectives of legislation and development plans are done.

Generally, the parliamentary committee hearings have been considered the best tools in undertaking the oversight of governance and administrative matters. Through the calls for public participation, parliamentary committees not only enable the Parliament to be in adherence with Article 118 of the Constitution but they enrich policies and legislation with experts’ input. Committees enable direct contact between the citizens and specific MPs and the flow of information to Members. The committees also serve as a platform for people in the opposition to voice their concerns and have input in the development of policies.

Therefore, the dismal performance in committee attendance by members is a great disservice to the citizens they represent and undermines the principles of democratic governance and should be condemned. The revelation that MPs are absconding their duties further weakens the public trust in the legislature as an institution that is mandated to address their needs. By missing committee meetings or any legislative proceedings without valid reasons, MPs leave the citizens with a feeling of being ‘unrepresented’.

The citizens who pay taxes and voted with the desire to attain progressive change often end up feeling shortchanged when the MPs fail to play their part. Because citizens have high expectations from their representatives, MPs should strive to utilize the available means to amplify and address their needs. Citizens have a myriad of issues ranging from healthcare, education, infrastructure and security that need to be addressed to the government and their only link is their representatives.

The primary need for the establishment of parliamentary committees is to gather members of parliament in smaller groups with a specific jurisdiction such as Health, in order to enable them to work efficiently and effectively. However, the mere presence of parliamentary committees is not necessarily a sufficient indicator for their effectiveness. Thus, there’s need for the respective members to actively engage in the committee activities. Avenues such as parliamentary committees are perfect opportunities for MPs to ensure that various policy development reflect the local needs of their constituents and at the same time promote the national interests. In addition, a parliamentary committee that performs its duties effectively promotes democratic governance.

Why it’s Important to Understand MPs’ Roles.

Posted by on 14th July 2020

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Upon gaining the new Constitution in 2010 one key area that was overlooked was the civic education of Kenyans who are now guided by it. Like it has been said before Kenya ails not from lack of laws, rather from the absence of the political good-will to implement them. This absence of political good-will is fed by the mismatch between Kenyans’ expectations and the mandate of elected representatives as outlined in the Constitution, and this mismatch is as a result of the electorate not fully understanding the roles of the different arms of government.
To give context, Mzalendo recently released the Annual Parliamentary Scorecard that analysed the plenary performance of members of the National Assembly and the Senate in the year 2019. One of the comments that kept coming up as Kenyans interacted with the analysis was that an MP doesn’t need to speak in Parliament if they’re pushing for development on the ground. In addition to this, most said that those who spoke in the House just make noise anyway and do nothing productive.
For most, a productive MP is one who brings development to his/her constituents in the form of better roads, better or new school infrastructure, affordable education, better hospitals and safer neighbourhoods. The issue however with gauging an MP’s performance on this scale is that these are among the Executive’s (at both county and national level) deliverables. Where development of this nature is concerned, a member of Parliament is tasked with providing an enabling policy and legal environment and to provide oversight over the national and county governments to ensure that Wanjiku’s socio-economic needs are addressed.
A big portion of Kenyans is fixated on the “we can’t eat laws” mentality failing to see the opportunities that lie in legislation. A great example would be these past four months that Kenya has been dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Kenyans should remember that while President Uhuru Kenyatta has on different occasions given economic cushioning directives, they could only come to effect after Parliament provided a legal framework for them. Furthermore, the question of accountability of the funds being allocated to counties and different state organs can effectively be addressed by Parliament through their oversight role.
As it stands there is a stalemate in the Senate on the allocation formula as Senators fight to protect their respective counties from marginalization in the distribution of resources. If the Senate gets the sharing formula wrong vulnerable Kenyan will bear the brunt of the pandemic as infections seem to be on the rise in the wake of strained hospitals. This allocation formula in question seeks to solve the issue of county capacity and preparedness in fighting the virus and preventing deaths. One, therefore, need not overemphasize the crucial role of Parliament in flattening the curve.
The National Assembly, on the other hand, faces the important task of filling the vacant office of the Auditor General whose role is so keeping public finance books in check. Several experts have warned that the prevailing circumstances provide optimum conditions for the corrupt to steal from Kenyans. It would be unfortunate if the gap left by former Auditor-General Edward Ouko provided lee-way for corruption to take place as Kenyans fight for their lives.
Having all this in mind, it is important for constant, consistent citizen sensitization on the law to take place for Kenyans to be able to hold their leaders to account. An informed citizen is an empowered citizen.

Phased re-opening: Civic Responsibility Alone is not Enough to Keep Virus at Bay

Posted by on 8th July 2020

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Kenya on Monday, passed the 8,000-mark after confirming 181 new Covid-19 cases even as President Uhuru Kenyatta relaxed the containment measures in what he termed as a phased re-opening of the country. Kenya now joins African countries like South Africa and Madagascar who have tried to strike a balance in terms of saving lives and livelihoods. This decision is a relief to many, especially business owners. The effects of containment measures had seen curtailment of economic activities, with millions losing their jobs but health officials still dread it and consider it a path not to be taken anytime soon.
From the President’s address to the nation, it is clear that as a country, we have not met the irreducible minimum for lifting the restrictions. Even though there is a reasonable level of preparedness much has not been achieved. It is on the same background that the President notes that Kenyans will rely on their civic responsibility as the economy re-opens. In what seems to be a cautiously optimistic option, the President warns that any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic will lead to a return to lock-down at zero-option.
Previously, in his 8th presidential address, President Kenyatta highlighted that expert advice recommends that for the country to reopen, each county should designate at least 300 bed-capacity by July 7th 2020, for Covid-19 patients. A spot check on county preparedness according to media reports indicates otherwise, only 23 counties have met the target. Cumulatively, counties had attained a total of 9,300 isolation beds, against the national target of 30,500 units. In addition, the 47 counties have 400 ICU beds. The general acknowledgement is that the level of preparedness in our counties is still wanting despite the fact that time and funds had been allocated for that purpose.
On the other hand, even with the restrictions in place, civic responsibility proved to be a challenge both on the government and the citizen’s side. Citizens have been trying by all means to circumvent the restrictions put in place. Life returned to normal in some places even as the country reported a spike of cases. The country has witnessed cases of violation of curfew orders, night evictions, political and public gatherings with little caution to physical distancing. Civic responsibility was also hampered by the fact that a section of Kenyans still doubt the existence of the virus stemming from their deeply rooted mistrust in the government.
There is little prospect of a vaccine becoming widely available any time soon, how lives and livelihoods will turn out is also uncertain. In addition, six months into the pandemic, WHO still warns that the worst is yet to come. The government is walking on a tight rope and the reality is that we risk a surge of infections that will overwhelm the already strained our health systems if we depend on civic responsibility to keep the virus at bay.
Experts have highlighted that how governments act today will shape the post-Covid world for years to come. Therefore, even where there is civic responsibility, the government needs to increase preventive measures and facilitate access to testing, isolation and quarantine facilities as the bare minimum.
The government’s capacity for surveillance and contact tracing must also be enhanced. Training and capacity-building of more Community Health Workers and Volunteers should be hastened to help facilitate the implementation of Homebased care to relieve the burden off regional hospitals. With statistics from the Ministry of Health indicating that the virus is now fully in community transmission there needs to be great coordination between the national and county government to enhance service delivery.
Indeed sustainable reopening is still unclear and as President Nana Akufo-Addo commented expressing Ghana’s commitment to containing Covid-19, “we know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.”

No Room to Point Fingers in the Fight to Protect Democracy

Posted by on 3rd July 2020

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“Are we fighting Coronavirus or Democracy?”
“Police have killed more people that Covid-19 has”
“Where’s Parliament in all this? Why aren’t the MPs addressing police brutality?”
“Why is the civil society silent about police brutality.”
“Are counties actually prepared to fight Covid-19”
These are among the most common questions and statements ever since Kenya confirmed its first positive case of Coronavirus on March 13th 2020. Most, if not all, institutions were caught off-guard by the pandemic and have since been playing catch up especially under the circumstances of social distancing and lockdown. The past three months have seen massive job losses, loss-making by SMEs, increased cases of domestic violence, a sense of systems at both national and county level being overwhelmed and police brutality as the government measures are being enforced.
This uncertainty and outright violation of freedoms and rights has many Kenyans questioning the role of the legislature, civil society, judiciary, media and counties in the fight against Covid-19 but most importantly in protecting the rights enshrined in the Constitution. A study conducted by Mzalendo Trust recently reveals that all of these players performed poorly in the first few weeks of dealing with Coronavirus. Over time each of them has come to register some improvement with a couple of them marking a decline thereafter due to various factors as captured in the findings.
During the release of these findings, the panellists; Senator Isaac Mwaura, Hon. Gladys Shollei (Uasin Gishu Women Representative, seasoned journalist Macharia Gaitho and Policy & Governance Specialist Diana Sifuna all came to a consensus, that more remains to be done and it needs to be done now. As Mr Gaitho put it, the current circumstances present a breeding ground for a lot of scandals to happen. Truer words have not been spoken.
We have witnessed deliberate disregard of the Rule of Law and the Constitution over the past few months. The violence being meted out on journalists and curfew restrictions have limited the 4th Estate in executing its mandate to its full extent. Hard questions are not being asked yet the information being shared by the government has been questioned a couple of times. As it stands there have been doubts on the actual numbers of positive cases in the country, hospitals’ capacity to treat Covid-19 patients (depending on the different degrees of infection), counties’ capacity to treat patients particularly in economically marginalized areas and actions being taken against police officers who have used excessive force or extorted Kenyans in enforcing the curfew. Yet the media hasn’t pressed enough to get answers on very crucial issues of national interests leaving room for the government to spin and control the narrative.
As if this is not worrying enough, the recent purge in Parliament is slowly but surely making the legislative arm an appendage of the Executive arm where the latter’s proposals are likely to breeze through without any objection. That coupled with the lack of a robust opposition in both Houses threatens the role of oversight and representation of Parliamentarians. Accountability is needed now more than ever as millions and millions of funds in donations and grants are handed over to the government to fight Covid-19 and cushion the economy.
On top of this, the civil society hasn’t been as vocal as it has been expected to be. Again, presenting room for the government and its institutions to do as they please. Without a strong stance against the violation of civic and human rights, we are watching as the country is pushed to the edge with multiple injustices. It doesn’t help that the judiciary is yet to figure out a way to effectively carry out virtual proceedings not only in Nairobi but in all counties. It is hard to imagine how much needs to be done for an underfunded judiciary that was already dealing with a backlog of cases who now has to fight off the Executive that has been intentional in overstepping its authority.
The correlation among these institutions is so crucial in ensuring that the gains of the Constitution are not lost. Each of these players is like a gear in one big complex conveyor belt that is greased by their synergy to avoid any breakdowns. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure we don’t just survive the pandemic but avoid waking up to a dictatorial state one day.

Finance Bill 2020: It is Not Just About The President’s Agenda but The Welfare of Wanjiku

Posted by on 25th June 2020

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Creation of a spending plan and revenue-raising measures for a country is a highly emotive issue and needs to be looked at with the precision of a surgeon. This becomes more complicated when a country is faced with a pandemic such as Covid-19. Resources are limited whereas the needs are high. During such a time it is important that the government does not harm the individual citizen even as it tries to save the economy. Therefore, the perfect spending plan and revenue-raising measures is one that reflects the social, political and economic realities on the ground.
It is in times of distress such as these when different sectors and businesses are struggling to remain afloat that citizens look to governments for information to avoid confusion, direction to plan for future investments and protection from the health and economic impacts. The situation is worsened by the fact that there are two uncertainties, one of how long the virus will last and the other is the economic outlook of the country even with the containment measures being scaled back gradually. Therefore, budgeting needs to address these uncertainties.
In a bid to increase the tax revenues the Treasury announced some changes in the Finance Bill 2020. These changes were a clear indication that much of the budget will be financed by tax revenue. Some of the changes, expected to take effect on July 1 include the income tax on pension for retirees aged 65 and above years, 14 percent VAT on cooking gas (LPG) removing it from tax-exempt goods, a minimum tax of one percent on company sales whether they are making a loss or not and a digital tax of 1.5 percent on sales of foreign tech firms with earnings from Kenya.
Contrary to the citizen’s expectation the government through the proposed tax changes had no plans of protecting them from the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and neither was the budget seeking to safeguard livelihoods. It is vivid that the government was keen on improving its revenue collection and did not focus on the lives of Kenyans. Thus, the proposed measures elicited policy debates among young people, the elderly and business owners who have borne the brunt of not only the effects of Covid-19 pandemic but also the locust invasion and floods.
As these debates grew eyes were on the National Assembly to salvage the situation. Despite the present exceptional challenges faced by our legislators, the National Assembly moved with speed to save its lost glory as being an appendage of the executive.
Whereas the government seemed blind to the reality, the National Assembly during its consideration of the Finance Bill, 2020 through the Departmental Committee on Finance and Planning, resolved to put a smile on Kenyans by deleting several proposed changes. The National Assembly in its wisdom moved to zero-rate the price of unga, wheat flour and cooking gas and further opposed the imposition of the tax on the pensioners.
Local media reports indicate that the move by Parliament is, however, expected to set a protracted battle between the Legislature and the Executive should the President return the Bill to the lawmakers. What is good to note is that the National Assembly stood its ground and that it is not just about the president’s Agenda but the welfare of Wanjiku
As it has often been noted, COVID-19 opens opportunities for moving more decisively towards sustainable and inclusive growth. The pace has been set and moving forward our legislators still need to show Kenyans, through the policies that they make or approve that they are aware of the citizen’s vulnerability to COVID-19 and that its economic impact is very different across social groups.

Budgetary Allocation Must Not Impede Justice Dispensation

Posted by on 15th June 2020

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On Thursday 11th June 2020, the Cabinet Secretary in charge of National Treasury, Ambassador Ukur Yatani, unveiled a Ksh2.79 trillion budget aimed at serving the country for the next financial year until June 2021. This year’s budget was unique given the circumstances surrounding its unveiling. It came at a time when the country, indeed the whole world, is battling a rare crisis, the like of which has not been witnessed by virtually all the generations alive today. The COVID-19 Pandemic, whose origin is traceable to China, has brought the world to its knees, radically upending the hitherto entrenched norms and practices. In Kenya in particular, the impact to the economy has been just as draining as it has been negatively disruptive. No facet of life has been spared the consequences: Political, economic and social. Millions have been rendered jobless, owing to the grounding of various businesses from the hospitality sector, manufacturing, education, aviation, freight & logistics, public transport just to mention a few. For majority of Kenyan’s the unveiling of the budget could not have come at a better time.

In his statement, the Cabinet Secretary read out a break-down of the allocation expected to cushion the country from the shock, while readying it for recovery from one of the worst crisis ever witnessed. Keen not to be distracted from its agenda, the government ensured allocation to the Big Four Agenda, seen as key in boosting economic growth while improving the lives of Kenyans. Manufacturing was allocated Ksh18.3 billion; Food Security Ksh52.8 billion; Universal Healthcare Ksh50.3 billion; Housing Ksh6.9 billion. Devolved units were allocated a total of Ksh369.9 billion being Ksh316.5 billion of equitable share and Ksh53.4 billion of conditional allocation. Even with the allocations and determination to achieve its targets, the government is staring at a deficit in its budget of Ksh607.8 billion.

Keen to maximize revenue collection, the government has for the first time trained its eyes on the digital space, with the introduction of 1.5% digital tax imposed upon all online transactions. It is keen to leverage the expanding online space to generate more toward meeting budgetary responsibilities. Though in itself not a bad idea, care must be taken to the introduction of such measures so that they do not in any way frustrate public’s engagement with the increasingly significant space. In any case, all practical measures should be put in place to boost its growth. As a start, the government should closely monitor the implications of the new digital tax. Flexibility should be adopted to ensure that any bits that are inimical are arrested and contained before their full consequences can grow to a destructive maturity. Secondly, care should be taken to avoid any risk of misuse and exploitation, either by online service providers or by consumers of such services. Not to be left behind is any breach to the security of such transactions. Various experiences have demonstrated that online transactions are not immune to security associated risks.

There’s no doubt that the digital space is a frontier that has for the past three months seen an increase in revenue. With uncertainty on the resumption of normalcy, it would be safe to assume that the taxman will be collecting quite a dime under this new tax given the numerous business transactions taking place as Kenyans try to reduce movement in accordance to the social distancing measures. Keeping in mind that Kenya still faces a humongous debt burden, the revenues streaming from this front might be of good use to offset these debts. But only if the monies are properly utilised and not lost in the pockets of a few as has been the norm.

It would be interesting to see if the Ksh 3.1 billion allocated to the EACC and ODPP each would be utilized in taming the corruption that has brought the country’s economy to its knees.

The Fight Against Covid Cannot Be Won Without Youth Involvement

Posted by on 10th June 2020

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On 29th May 2020, Mzalendo Trust and Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association (KYPA) jointly held a Virtual Mock Parliament. Centring on their shared mandate on legislative processes and citizen engagement, the session was the first of its kind in Kenya bringing together youth from different parts of the country. The theme of the session, ‘Youth Participation during Covid-19” aimed at amplifying the voice of the youth during this unprecedented time of coronavirus.

The interactive session drew participants from ten different political parties, ensuring that the Virtual Parliament was actual replication of the diversity of Parliament itself.  There was representation from Jubilee, ODM, KANU, Wiper, ANC, Ford-Kenya, NARC-Kenya, Maendeleo Chap Chap, Green Congress of Kenya and the United Green Movement. Like the Parliament again, the participants selected a Speaker who ably presided over the session.

Held on Zoom for three hours, the session consisted of Honourable Chairpersons from four different committees who tabled their reports with relevant recommendations relating to the Covid-19 crisis. Other Honourable Members chipped in and contributed to the recommendations, either by adding content or asking the tough questions and thereby enriching the overall reports. Overall the lively session was a window into the realities and ideas that sit among the youth of Kenya thus showcasing the potential lies within the young populace.

Through this initiative, Mzalendo and KYPA sought to increase knowledge and awareness of the electorate on the roles and responsibilities of Members of Parliament; to promote public participation of youth and inter-party youth dialogue in governance process; to encourage proactive and performing members of Parliament to continue championing and advocating for public interest and youth issues; to advocate for the facilitation of virtual Parliamentary sittings to ensure that Parliament’s role on representation and oversight is not abdicated; to deepen the linkage between civil society organizations, caucuses and Parliament; and to promote an open, transparent and accessible Parliament that enacts youth-friendly legislation towards the responsiveness of Covid-19.

One of the outcomes from the session was the greater need to provide systemic structures that support the youth and promote their representation in Parliament. There’s a need for increased efforts to keep creating and curating spaces like these to allow the youth to provide their views elaborately on issues of national concern and specifically that affect them. The session dispelled the misconception that youth aren’t interested in politics, governance and policy and instead made it apparent that the youth’s voice can no longer be ignored in decision making. The breadth of knowledge of issues and the mastery in articulation proved that it is up to the government to shelve archaic methods of engaging young people in policy and law-making and embrace creative and alternative ways to make public participation more accessible and inclusive.

Covid-19 has indeed exposed the harsh reality that physical meetings are not the ideal method to ensure public participation takes place. Mzalendo, having recognized this shortcoming and taking cognisance of the evolving digital world, created Dokeza, a Bill annotation platform that allows users to comment and provide views on Bills in Parliament that will be sent to Parliament as memoranda.

Kenyan youth form the bulk of internet users proving that Virtual Parliaments or forums such as these are the most ideal to target the youth. It is ironical that while youth in Kenya consist of almost 75% of the Kenyan population, they consist of only a paltry 6.5% in Kenya’s Parliament. Political parties should take this up and continually nominate youth to representative positions in Parliament and in the political party internal structures.

Parliament should stand encouraged that a Virtual Parliament can work as long as the right mechanisms are in place as has been evidenced in the United Kingdom and Brazil. Members of Parliament should continue serving the people of Kenya as the constitutional roles of legislation, oversight and representation do not stop; especially during this time of crisis when strong and clear-headed leadership is required. It should be remembered that the only curve we are trying to flatten is that of Coronavirus, not democracy, not constitutionalism nor the Rule of Law.

And to the young people of this country, continue pushing to take up your place in representation. If the virtual Parliament is anything to go by, your voice is most needed to pull this country out of the darkness and into prosperity. The potential to effect change already lies in you, you just need to harness it.