JAMES MURAGURI: Allow counties to implement Big Four agenda

Chairman council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya with his vice chairman Mwangi wa Iria during a press conference at their offices in Westlands on January 16, 2018 /EZEKIEL AMING'A
Chairman council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya with his vice chairman Mwangi wa Iria during a press conference at their offices in Westlands on January 16, 2018 /EZEKIEL AMING'A

It is that time again when your government plans how to spend Sh2.08 trillion of your hard-earned money, which you pay as taxes, in the 2019-20 budget. One of key documents that the government will generate is the 2019 budget policy statement which the National Treasury has made publicly available so that you can provide comments.

But what is a budget policy statement? This is a document prepared pursuant to Section 25 of the Public Finance Management Act, 2012. It is submitted to Parliament (both Senate and National Assembly), by February 15 each year and thereafter approved within 14 days with or without amendments.

This document reflects the culmination of the strategic planning phase of the budget process. The national government broadly aligns its policy goals with the resources available and takes into consideration the total amount of expenditure, revenue, and debt for the upcoming budget year. At the county level, this document is equivalent to the county Fiscal Strategy Paper.

In the budget for 2019-20, government, through the budget policy statement, plans to heavily invest in the President’s legacy christened Big Four agenda. The Big Four are housing, universal healthcare, manufacturing and food security. While government is heavily investing in the Big Four, it is important to note that Kenya continues to rely heavily on donors for delivery of critical services such as immunisation and purchase of ARVs.

These partnerships with donors are very important but there are pertinent questions that need to be asked, including whether we are investing in this nation’s human capital as effectively as we should. While the President’s agenda sets a good foundation for future growth, the focus on brick and mortar component of the Big Four agenda moves money from other important areas that are of greater priority.

Allocating so much money to the national level agencies and ministries as the Budget Policy Statement (BPS) 2019 has done further concentrates resources at the national level, running counter to Schedule Four of the Constitution.

Schedule Four assigns functions to counties and these functions, which are either shared or exclusive, can best be achieved where service is closest to the public. Of the President's Big Four agenda, housing, agriculture and health are shared functions between the national and county governments.

Good intentions notwithstanding, the Senate should rise to the occasion and question the effectiveness of having the President's agenda implemented by national level agencies and whether it is more effective for counties to implement the same under conditional grants while we strengthen national oversight authorities?

The Senate, as custodian of county interests, should also help us understand the equity question when most of the resources are left with ministries and agencies at the national level.

CEO, Institute of Public Finance Kenya and an Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity