• Sluggish economy dents government revenue, slowing down development.
• Politicising of graft war threatening Uhuru's grip on his Jubilee ruling party.
The ongoing crackdown on corruption, the unmet Big Four agenda timelines and promises and drought are expected to dominate President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation Address on Thursday.
Uhuru will also address the nation at a time when the country’s economy seems to be sluggish, with the government struggling to meet its debt obligations due to suppressed revenue.
The latest Treasury numbers show the Kenya Revenue Authority, with three months to the end of the financial year, has so far managed to collect Sh900 billion in tax against a target of Sh1.6 trillion.
This means by the end of February, the government revenues were at Sh1.4 trillion against a Sh2.58 trillion target in this year’s budget.
Kenyans are also angry at the ever-growing cases of corruption and the politicisation of the war against graft.
The two topics are expected to feature prominently in this year’s speech, especially given food security is one of the pillars of the Big Four agenda.
During last year’s address on May 2, Uhuru pitched the Big Four agenda as a key to ensuring that Kenya is food secure.
At the time, the President said the government was taking steps to help Kenyans impacted by long and recurrent drought and famine. He said, “the Hunger Safety Net Programme” was cushioning Kenyans against hunger.
“Through it, cash has been transferred to vulnerable households in arid and semi-arid areas, giving them the choice of where and how to spend the stipend,” Uhuru told the House.
What the President said at the time is in sharp contrast to what is happening today, with millions of people facing hunger, especially in Northern Kenya.
President Kenyatta said the programme would restore the dignity of Kenyans “who might once have been asked to line up in the hot sun to be given a few ‘goro goros’ of pre-determined foods”.
Today, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are lining up to receive relief food and it remains to be seen how Uhuru will address this in his speech.
(1) The President shall--
(a) address the opening of each newly elected Parliament;
(b) address a special sitting of Parliament once every year and may address Parliament at any other time; and
(c) once every year--
(i) report, in an address to the nation, on all the measures taken and the progress achieved in the realisation of the national values, referred to in Article 10;
(ii) publish in the Gazette the details of the measures and progress under sub-paragraph (i); and
(iii) submit a report for debate to the National Assembly on the progress made in fulfilling the international obligations of the Republic.
Last year, Uhuru did not dwell much on corruption, only highlighting the Sh500 million had been recovered in 2018, while there were proceedings in court to recover assets worth Sh6 billion.
He placed the responsibility of the anti-graft war on the new DPP and DCI bosses and made a moral call on Kenyans.
“Having made all these efforts, I want to repeat what every Kenyan in their heart of hearts knows: We must all come together to fight this vice, if we are to conquer it. Families must feel ashamed by one of their members becoming involved in corruption; they must insist on the upholding of their name as a family,” Uhuru said in his speech.
This year, however, he is expected to address the issue, especially how he will address the politics that are overshadowing the war on graft.
It will be interesting to see if Uhuru will tackle the elephant in the room — which is members of his ruling party, including his close political ally Deputy President William Ruto, attacking DCI George Kinoti and DPP Nordin Haji, who are his new appointments in his second term.
It is further expected the President will give a report on the progress of the other pillars of the Big Four agenda — manufacturing, affordable housing and universal healthcare.
On UHC, the government insists on having made progress in the implementation of the pilot phase in the four counties of Kisumu, Machakos, Nyeri and Isiolo.
According to the Ministry of Health, the lack of national identity cards and birth certificates has greatly curtailed registration for UHC, with registration now at 62 per cent.
“The pilot phase of UHC in the four counties started three months ago and has reported positive feedback, with Kenyans saying there is continuous availability of medicine and committed caregivers,” Health CS Sicily Kariuki said last week she said the rollout of UHC to the other 43 counties will be done by 2022, although the initial target was July this year.
Kenya is still in the learning process of how to successfully implement UHC by studying countries such as Thailand.
According to Kariuki, provision of medicine remains a challenge and this has been witnessed in the lack of sufficient supplies in public hospitals in counties such as Nairobi.
“Forty per cent of the cost of healthcare is medicine, so we should have essential drugs within the correct pricing. Now Kemsa (Kenya Medical Supplies Authority) does not have a reference price listing," Kariuki said.
But even with this display of confidence by the government, senators, whom Uhuru will be addressing on Thursday, have described UHC as too ambitious.
In its report on the 2019-20 Budget Policy Statement, the Committee on Finance and Budget says that enough resources have not been allocated to the health sector to aid the programme.
“There is a significant resource gap in the sector as a result of the proposed ceiling in the 2019-20 financial year and over the medium term considering the government intends to actualise the UHC by 2022 as one of its Big Four plan,” the report says.
MPs and Kenyans await to hear how the President plans to tackle these challenges.
Parliament, through Budget Office, has already raised an issue with the government’s move to reduce allocations for manufacturing in the next financial year from Sh2.9 billion to Sh629 million.
This shows a lack of the commitment that Uhuru mentioned in last year’s SOTN address in regards to this pillar.
According to the budget proposals, the resources related to manufacturing will go to reviving institutions such as Rivatex, supporting the leather industrial parks, textile development and modernisation of the New-KCC.
With the government committing less to manufacturing, the burden to achieve the projected growth falls in the realm of the private sector.
Uhuru is, therefore, expected to elaborate on the incentives the government seeks to put in place to help the private sector grow manufacturing in the country.
Uhuru was supposed to break the ground for the first units of affordable houses last December but this has been put off thrice since.
Experts have poured cold water on the government’s proposed financing model of the housing project, which aims at delivering 500,000 houses by 2022.
Because the proposal is capital-intensive, economists propose the government to introduce a housing bond to help finance it.
“The government’s successful introduction of an infrastructure bond programme in Kenya may raise hope that a housing bond could as well become a success story,” Parliament Budget Office says in its latest report.
There have been concerns about the possible uptake of the houses, with suggestions that the government should rather focus on making building materials affordable.
However, according to Housing PS Charles Hunga, the number of Kenyans who have registered for state-funded affordable homes has crossed the 100,000 mark
On Tuesday, Hinga said the good response through the Affordable Housing platform is a testament to the massive interest and potential the programme has.
“As a government, we are working towards ensuring the construction, completion and handover of these houses is expedited so we can give our people a sense of ownership, promote social equity and improve access to our urban cities,” Hinga said.
According to the PS, the contractor for the 1,370 units flagship project at Park Road is already on site. This is where Uhuru was supposed to break the ground for the affordable housing project.