Finance minister Robinson Githae would no doubt have wished he were reading Kenya’s historic Budget in different circumstances.
The man who once advised Kenyans to consider rats as a source of protein during hard times no doubt has a wish list longer than his arm.
If only the economy was still growing at seven per cent, then he would have all the cash to throw at projects and ministries. If only the country was not fighting a war against unpredictable enemies, then he would have more money to pay teachers and doctors. If only the helicopter crash of June 10 had not happened then he would not have to read an austerity Budget with the country mourning one of the longest serving Cabinet ministers and his loyal assistant. If only a strange disease had not attacked maize crops then he would not have to allocate more money to restock the strategic grain reserves.
It goes on, but the most significant thing about today’s reading of the Budget is that it is more ceremonial than substance.
The new Constitution has severely whittled down the significance of what was once the highlight of a key ministry’s calendar.
This Budget was done and dusted long before Githae, who will hold that office for less than a year struts into the National Assembly this afternoon carrying the famed but outdated briefcase.
The advent of tablet computers like the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Kindle Fire has left the Finance minister and Parliament looking a tad out of touch in a world of razzmatazz gadgets and PowerPoint presentations.
Is all the ceremony really necessary or would the time be better used? Maybe Kenya should convince its partners in the East African Community to reform their systems of making national budgets to render the ceremony of reading the same on the same day unnecessary.
The sight of MPs falling asleep during the reading of the Budget is depressing and annoying, and only just a little bit funny (our taxes pay their wages after all), but perhaps the blame lies in Parliament’s misplaced attachment to political ceremonies that have long since lost their meaning.
This Budget is historic because its making involved public participation and the Treasury no longer has the final say on how funds are allocated, removing what was for long a political weapon for the Executive.
But the Budget is also important because it will allocate money for setting up critical County Government structures without which devolution would not be possible.