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February 20, 2019

Jubilee feels little pressure to end strikes

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto./FILE
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto./FILE

I tried to read up a bit on the recent budget developments and I was struck by the level of imprecision we’re dealing with. For one, the 2017-18 budget will be read two months earlier than usual, in April, to accommodate the August elections. This means that not all the required data to fully flesh out the budget will be available, and the guesstimates that will be used may then require a possibly substantial supplementary budget later.

The current fiscal year will also require a supplementary budget for the doctors’ pay increase, although the one that Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich is budgeting for appears unlikely to be accepted. Overall, the Kenyatta administration seems to feel precious little pressure to end the strike, which is odd in an election year (never mind common decency). The supplementary budget will also include spending for the drought and resulting famine (like the doctors’ strike, not ideal in an election year, and also yet again something the government doesn’t appear to feel much pressure about).

There’s an additional level of uncertainty on the county level – typically, on the national government level, not too much unspent cash is left at the end of the fiscal year. But this could be quite different on county level. And MPs will be manic with the nominations just after the budget reading, and getting ready for their campaigns. How much substantiated scrutiny of the proposed budget can we realistically expect from them? And, more immediately, will there be quorum?

Also remember that the factors above pile on top of the usual problem – we had estimates that around 30 per cent of public spending are simply stolen. This figure might be higher now – you hear complaints about completely out of control theft pretty much everywhere. The Auditor General has more than once pointed out the ridiculously high percentage of government spending that could not be properly accounted for. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everything was stolen – clearly a good number of civil servants did get paid or there would have been far wider strikes. But the bottom line is that we really don’t know how much. All in all, this is a lot of vagueness! And then there are these other pending finance related bills: the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2017 seeks to entrench the Constituencies Development Fund, which has been declared unconstitutional and is still in court.

But because all kids must have slush funds, our elected officials have pushed ahead to demand two more such vehicles: the Parliamentary Oversight Fund and the National Government Affirmative Action Fund, the same as the CDF, just for senators and women’s reps. I bet you a Snickers that quorum for these might just be found.

 Andrea Bohnstedt is an independent country risk analyst


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