In Summary
  • Significantly, the CAS positions come with privileges like staff, vehicles, security and other expenses that have kept the public wage bill strained.
  • According to British non-profit group Oxfam International, extreme inequality is getting out of control in Kenya.
  • Expenditure reduction plans like the planned merger of parastatals in line with recommendations of a 2013 report by a parastatal reforms task force have largely been shelved.

Two months before the August 2017 elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was seeking a second term in office, outlined his manifesto with the key theme being austerity.

His Jubilee Party pledged to reduce wastage in government to save up to Sh1 trillion in the next five years.

So important was austerity that even the then opposition Nasa made a similar pledge, whose achievement was hinged on the establishment of prudent fiscal policies and strict public finance management systems.

Jubilee, whose presidential ticket of Mr Kenyatta and running-mate William Ruto eventually won in a controversial October repeat poll after the Supreme Court nullified the August victory, had planned to establish a General Services Agency (GSA) to manage and support the basic administrative functioning of government, procure all supplies and services, communications, transportation and office space.

WAGE BILL

That was on paper. After running a relatively lean Cabinet in his first term, the President announced a bloated team that included Mr Raphael Tuju as Cabinet Secretary without portfolio and the amorphous role of Chief Administrative Secretary that critics said introduced assistant ministers through the backdoor.

This flew in the face of a broader debate on the wage bill that in 2014 prompted Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto to announce they would take a 20 percent pay cut — something that was supposed to apply to Cabinet Secretaries and parastatal heads on different scales.

It is not clear how far this initiative went beyond the public announcements.

Significantly, the CAS positions come with privileges like staff, vehicles, security and other expenses that have kept the public wage bill strained and betrayed the promise to tame wasteful spending.

Also, ministries have principal secretaries, directors and other senior technical staff.

TAXATION

Economists contend that the government would not have had to go for poor Kenyans in punitive taxation, including the controversial 16 percent Value Added Tax on fuel, had there been attempts to tame wasteful spending.

“There is no silver bullet. As long as we are spending more than we can raise, we have to take all the consequences of living beyond our means.

"We have to cut expenditure. It is not rocket science to see where money is being wasted,” Dr Paul Gachanja, chairman of the Economics Department at Kenyatta University, told the Sunday Nation.

With years of failed austerity in both national and county governments, poor Kenyans have had to shoulder the burden of those in power, with the VAT controversy stirring fresh debate on the economy and debt burden.

Public display of opulence at a time when many Kenyans are straining to cope with the high cost of living has not made things any better.

POVERTY

According to British non-profit group Oxfam International, extreme inequality is getting out of control in Kenya, with only a few enjoying the fruits of economic growth and with no trickle down effect on poor Kenyans.

In a December 2017 report titled "Taxing for a More Equal Kenya: A five-point action plan to tackle inequality", Oxfam said less than 0.1 percent of the population (8,300 people) own more wealth than the bottom 99.9 percent (more than 44 million people).

“The richest 10 percent of people in Kenya earned on average 23 times more than the poorest 10 percent. While this minority of super-rich Kenyans are accumulating wealth and income, the fruits of economic growth are failing to trickle down to the poorest,” Oxfam said in the report.

Pundits contend that public anger at manifestations of such wide inequalities may become hard to deal with as the government focuses on bridging budgetary gulfs created through expensive borrowing to fund ambitious projects like the Standard Gauge Railway, with little positive impact on the poor.

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