Big Four Agenda steadily on course

Notwithstanding the challenges experienced, the Big Four agenda remains on course.

In Summary

• Fourteen counties have already expanded their health infrastructure including additional maternity wings and have operationalized more health facilities by increasing both the human resource and equipment.

• To address this food insecurity issue, the Ministry of Agriculture has laid down objectives in order to achieve 100% food and nutrition security and to positively impact the livelihoods of approximately 3.3 million farming households.

Big Four agenda.
DREAM?: Big Four agenda.
Image: COURTESY

The Government of Kenya through His Excellency the President, declared in 2017 that it would focus its time and resources on a targeted transformative agenda, based on four socio-economic pillars namely; Increasing Manufacturing, Food and Nutrition Security, Providing affordable Homes and Universal Health Coverage. This was meant to address the pressing concerns facing Kenyans and create the best environment for achieving accelerated socio-economic transformation.

Three years on, the Big four agenda continues to make giant strides towards achieving its pillars. Already, the Government has secured financing for the Affordable housing Programme to a tune of Sh128 Billion, which is going to kick-start the project. On health matters, progress is being made towards finalization of NHIF reforms, expansion of health infrastructure in the counties and capacity building of health workers to improve both access to and quality of healthcare in the country. In manufacturing, the government has identified priority areas for investment to accelerate economic growth and has made significant interventions including enactment of the Special Economic Zones Act and approved the Kenya Investment Policy, all of which have helped to improve the country’s ease of business and increased its capital flows. Finally, on food security, the Government, through the ministry of Agriculture, has invested billions in initiatives to curb drought, improve animal husbandry and revive mega-irrigation projects including the Galana –Kulalu project, which will impact millions of citizens living in arid and semi-arid areas.

In January 2019, the President issued Executive Order No 1 that established a framework for coordination and implementation of National Government Development Programmes and Projects that link up the implementation of National Government projects at the National, Regional and County level. The order set up a number of implementing and coordinating Committees at various levels that are the backbone of the implementation activities for the Big 4 Agenda. These are: National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee (NDICCC: National Development Implementation Technical Committee (NDITC); Regional Development Implementation Co-ordination Committees (RDICCC); County Development Implementation Co-ordination Committees (CDICC). 

Universal Health Coverage (UHC)

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) will ensure that all individuals and communities in Kenya have access to quality essential health services as well as to ease their financial hardships that are incurred due to medical related expenses.

The Ministry of Health initiated the process of finalizing  the NHIF reforms that included: pooling heath funds through taxes, compulsory insurance contributions and voluntary health schemes to help minimize the financial risk of illness across the population. UHC defines Kenya’s essential Benefits Package, a health benefit package which includes medicines, procedures and health technologies that can be accessed by all Kenyan at service delivery points. The Ministry also reviewed the Kenya essential medicine list (KEML) and the Kenya Medical Supplies list (KMSL) that has been on the spotlight for corruption allegations. Additionally, the Ministry has provided basic equipment specifications to KEMSA to enable monitoring of the prices of medicines, vaccines and other medical supplies for standardization purposes thus reducing out of pocket expenditure for Kenyans accessing medical services. These initiatives have seen an increase in number of health facilities providing Kenya Essential Package for Health (KEPH) services from 41% to 55% and to 57% in 2013, 2016, and 2018 respectively.

UHC has also facilitated the training of 200 specialists through fellowships, placed 2,717-degree holders for internship including two months rural experience, placed 4,000 diploma holder interns to primary health care (PHC) facilities, and placed 5,493 final year KMTC students on attachment for a period of 4 weeks to 3 months to boost the healthcare human resource that is currently over stretched.

Fourteen counties have already expanded their health infrastructure including additional maternity wings and have operationalized more health facilities by increasing both the human resource and equipment.

These interventions will ensure that healthcare services reach the grassroots and generally improve the wellbeing of Kenyans as well as address unemployment in the country. Additionally, these measures are timely as they will help to curb the Covid-19 pandemic currently facing the health sector. Improving access to and use of health services will enable Kenyans to be more productive and active contributors to their families, communities and society at large, and to contribute to the country’s socio-economic development.

Affordable Housing Program (AHP)

The Affordable Housing Program was proposed to intervene and resolve the challenges in the housing market that led to limited supply of affordable homes for citizens in the lower income bracket as well as to provide solutions that will increase access to affordable financing for the targeted homeowners.

(AHP) is transitioning from the planning phase to implementation with several projects breaking ground in 2020. Many of the projects are expected to be commissioned in 2020. With the seed funding provided by National Treasury to a tune of Ksh 128 billion during the 2020/2021 Financial Year, other anchor projects, comprising over 100,000 units will be commissioned and contribute further to the achievements required for the realization of the 500,000 affordable homes. The constructed units will be distributed across the Counties with the initial projects already being implemented in Nairobi’s Ngara area, Shauri Moyo Kisumu, Embu, Machakos and Stoni Athi. The project will benefit civil servants and public service officers with priority being given to first time beneficiaries. AHP has made significant progress in laying the groundwork for affordable housing by developing suitable policy guidelines such as subsidised land, tax breaks on land such as stamp duty waivers, controlled prices and affordable financing for the house with flexible payment options.

The Government has developed a framework that outlines and secures the AHP budget financing through a Public – Private – Partnership where eligible beneficiaries contribute towards the AHP for provision of bulk infrastructure. Additionally, the framework will assist in identifying land on which projects can be undertaken, operationalizing the Housing Fund, develop a tax incentives package that will attract private sector to AHP, securing financing for homeowners in low income brackets, piloting a framework for jua kali and MSMEs participation in AHP and lastly, making legislative changes that will facilitate affordable housing.

Manufacturing

The manufacturing pillar of the Big Four Agenda aims to transform lives by creating jobs, reducing outward flow of foreign exchange, creating wealth, lowering the cost of living, improving livelihoods and reducing poverty and inequality. The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Co-operatives (MOITC) led by the State Department for Industrialization has identified priority sectors such as tea, coffee, horticulture, agro – processing, textiles and leather as economic drivers, using a value chain approach for processing and value addition of agricultural produce, fisheries, livestock, forestry, mining, oil and gas.

Kenya has been able to improve on its ranking on the Ease of Doing Business index from position 136 in 2016 to 56 in 2020 as more emphasis has been put into enhancing the regulatory environment, adoption of system automation which has made business registration easier, speedy cargo clearance, improved border movements and having a technology enabled population. This translates to an attractive business environment conducive for investors thereby increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Kenya has therefore been among the top three performers for the last 3 years thus increasing annual FDI inflows by 3 times over the period.       

Recently, the cabinet approved the Kenya Investment Policy which is geared towards increasing transparency, inclusivity, sustainable development, economic diversification, domestic empowerment, global integration and investor centeredness of Kenya’s business environment. The last 3 budget statements have provided favourable tax incentives to enhance local competitiveness and reduce inflows of imported products.

The Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act was enacted and regulations gazetted to facilitate firms operating in the zones. SEZs play a big role in attracting high net worth investors into the country to mainly set up export – oriented enterprises thereby increasing FDI inflow and employment opportunities.

Food security and nutrition

While the country periodically suffers from food insecurity, the largest concentration of food poor households are found in the North Eastern Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) counties particularly Garissa, Mandera, Isiolo, Samburu and Turkana, where about 1.4 million people out of about 5.35 million people or about 32% of the population are food insecure.

To address this food insecurity issue, the Ministry of Agriculture has laid down objectives in order to achieve 100% food and nutrition security and to positively impact the livelihoods of approximately 3.3 million farming households.

Among the aspirations to be achieved within the food security pillar are: 50% reduction in the number of food insecure Kenyans, 34% increase in the average daily income of farmers, 47% reduction in the Cost of Food as a percentage of income.

To meet these aspirations, the ministry has implemented several projects and programs including the Sh6 billion Galana/ Kulalu irrigation scheme to cushion Kenyans from food insecurity. The project aims to bring down the price of maize as well as reduce poverty levels through employment. Other programs are the Kenya Climate Agriculture Project (KCSAP) being implemented in 24 counties, the Small-Scale Irrigation and Value Addition Project (SIVAP) in 3 Counties and the Drought Resilience and Livelihood Support Program (DRSLP) in 7 Counties. The programmes aim to build resilience and ensure a reduction in number of persons that are food insecure.

The Ministry is also working together with counties to implement several food security initiatives that include developing a livestock identification and traceability system (LITS) database that will be piloted in five counties covering 40,000 cattle and the Regional Pastoral Livelihood Resilience Project (RPLRP) covering 14 counties to boost pastoral resilience and food production in ASAL areas. Through the Kenya Livestock Insurance Project, 90,600 Tropical Livestock Units (TLU) covering 18,012 households have been insured in 8 ASAL counties hence cushioning farmers from sudden losses due to calamity like drought or famine affecting their animals.

Challenges

The government has shown that it is fully committed to achieve the Big Four agenda. Notwithstanding, several challenges continue to affect the implementation of the Big four Agenda. These include financial limitations, corruption and citizen ignorance of the big four, early politicking for 2022 and conflict of interest between the national and county government.

The Covid -19 pandemic has seen the government set aside billions of shillings to curb its spread and to diagnose and treat the infected, which is a costly venture. This has the impact of temporarily diverting money from other projects including the UHC, for the duration that the pandemic is being addressed. Additionally, the pandemic has caused a downturn in the tourism sector, manufacturing and export businesses and inflows of FDI into the country hence affecting cash flow and the overall economy of the country. However, the Government is implementing an economic recovery plan that seeks to both cushion citizenry from the economic impact of the covid-19 as well as to spur business and economic growth despite the pandemic. Specific fiscal measures include the reduction of corporate and income tax from 30% to 25%, tax waiver for low income earners below Sh24,000 monthly and allocation of an additional Sh10 billion for cash transfers to vulnerable groups countrywide including the elderly and the disabled. Additionally, the government allocated billions of shillings in the last budget for continuation of mega- infrastructure projects such as the LAPSSET and the SGR, which will have a significant impact on the economy of the country and the region when completed. Furthermore, healthcare received Sh111.7 billion, which is Sh18 billion more than the 2019/2020 allocation, with half of this amount dedicated for universal health coverage. This shows that the implementation and the realization of the Big Four pillars remains key even as the government continues to address the pandemic.

Corruption on the other hand, results in the diversion of money intended for better health care, food security, manufacturing, and affordable homes. This has the net effect of derailing government development programmes such as the Big Four that would otherwise highly impact the lives of citizens. To curb this vice, the government has instituted the multi-agency platform that brings several agencies together to fight graft by apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators and retrieving public stolen properties. To date, the agencies have been able to witness a lot of success in the war against graft, with billions of public assets recovered - approximately Sh11billion was recovered in the last financial year alone- and hundreds of suspects arrested and convicted of various corruption related charges. However, government effort needs to be backed up by citizen support to win this war; every Kenyan should join hands with the agencies and report cases of corruption, abuse of office and graft activities as well as declining to partake in acts of graft.

The other challenge that is threatening to derail the Big Four agenda is politicization of development projects and the untimely focus by some politicians on 2022 succession politics. Constant politicking shifts the focus away from development thus hampering the government’s ability to fully implement the big four agenda within the set time frame. The 2022 succession politics has created a campaigning atmosphere causing politicians to focus more on the succession other than supporting the government to achieve the Big Four. Nevertheless, the government has steadfastly focused on national development with the president has continually calling upon politicians to focus on service delivery to citizenry, and to support the government’s development agenda and in the fight against corruption.

Another reason the Big Four agenda has experienced delay in its implementation process is because of budgetary discordance between the national and county government owing to inadequate engagement. Additionally, lack of consensus on revenue allocation to counties has derailed national development including the Big Four agenda. Some counties have not yet aligned their budget to the big four agenda posing a challenge in realising set priorities. Counties have also been calling for legislation to enable them to implement the agenda. Towards this end, then government through the Kenya Law Reform Commission has instituted legislative initiatives to support the achievement of the Big Four agenda. These include: development of the National Research/ Health Bill to provide a legal framework for continuous health research, development of legislation to cut the cost of leasing land with an aim of attracting foreign investors to unlock land for agriculture, development of the building surveyor’s bill to support the housing sector, to review the Hide, Skin and Leather Trade Act to facilitate setting up of leather cottage industries among many other legislations.

Notwithstanding the challenges experienced, the Big Four agenda remains on course as the government is committed to achieving the agenda. The government intends to expeditiously implement the laid down framework for achieving the Big Four as well as to accelerate the implementation of flagship projects within the Big Four. Additionally, vices such as corruption that derail the project will be firmly dealt with to ensure the billions of taxpayer’s money invested into them is utilized as envisioned. Moreover, efforts are being made to periodically avail more information to citizens on the progress of the Big Four to enable them participate and support the achievement the agenda. Citizens on the other hand are urged to be more proactive in identifying and exploiting opportunities presented by the Big Four as this will ensure that they benefit not only when the agenda is actualized but also directly during the implementation process.

John Omuse is a lecturer at Multi Media University