No Mr President, numbers tell a different story

Form Four students at Kaya Tiwi Secondary School studying for exams on their own as the ongoing teachers' strike entered its fourth week yesterday. [PHOTO: GIDEON MAUNDU/STNDARD]

President Uhuru Kenyatta had to wait for dinner time on a Sunday, when presumably all parents were back in the house with their children, for him to address the country, in what was sort of emotional blackmail to turn the citizens against the teachers who want his Government to pay the court-awarded 50-60 per cent pay rise.

The devil in the President’s speech is in the details of the numbers that he spoke about. There were little lies and big lies. He was using statistics to tell a story that his own institution, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, contradicts.

For instance, the President said the public wage bill is at Sh568 billion. The Economic Survey 2015, the Government report with official data, shows the amount to be Sh418.3 billion.

If we work the maths with the Sh1.1 trillion that the Government collected in the last financial year, we get the actual wage bill is 38 per cent of revenues. If the global average is 35 per cent as the President said, then, we can bake a bigger cake. No?

As the President lamented about the wage bill, did he know that parastatals, which he was supposed to reform two years ago — abolish some, merge others and make them profitable — gobble up Sh76.9 billion in wages? Does he know that companies where the Government has a majority shareholding take up Sh48 billion? Does he know that these bodies can generate lots of cash, if run prudently to sustain the economy beyond his wildest dreams?

Then the President says the budget for teachers’ pay rose from Sh139 billion to Sh174 billion in one year. If we do the maths, in one year he pumped in Sh35 billion just like that, and now he has a problem with Sh17 billion?

Besides, there’s a curious statement that the President made which does not add up: “If the award were paid, we would have to find an additional Sh118 billion, to meet the salary and pension obligations of the award.”

What is the math when we know pension is pegged on seven or eight per cent of your pay? All these teachers don’t retire at once, so at no time will the President be dishing out all that money in one go. Furthermore, if you check the pensions budget under the Consolidated Fund Services (CFS), you will see the amount to be Sh44 billion. Where is the Sh118 billion coming from?

Then the President scared by saying that we will have to pay more in value added tax or that we be forced to borrow more. Now if we use his figures, you will realise there’s something that does not add up.

He says the wage bill is Sh568 billion. Fine. Let us assume that is true. We collected Sh1.1 trillion in revenues. We gave counties Sh287 billion. The CFS budget for debt repayment and interest on loans takes about Sh397 billion. Does the President mean to say we borrow everything we use to run government?

Our recurrent budget to run national government is Sh784 billion, if it is true the wage bill takes Sh568 billion you mean all these operations including the foreign trips, like the President’s current trip to New York, takes Sh216 billion? And we have not even touched the development budget!

What was the President’s motive in saying that 680,000 civil servants “just about 1.5 per cent of the entire Kenyan population... consumed 52 per cent of our revenues”.

This would imply that the remaining 98.5 per cent consumes just 48 per cent of revenues. In actual fact, KNBS data shows that about 53 per cent of the population is under 19 years of age. You can’t expect them to earn their own living. And 42 per cent of the population is under 14 years, so clearly they are still dependent on their parents, some of whom are among the 1.5 per cent.

The other thing with the President’s comparison is the insinuation that all 42 million Kenyans pay taxes that are enjoyed by 1.5 per cent – the 680,000 public servants. Does he really know how many people these civil servants support? And what about the contribution of the large taxpayers?

In a country like Kenya, it is difficult to convince teachers who are on strike over a pending pay rise that there’s no money; that the country is broke; that if they get their court-awarded pay rise, then every public servant will demand their share and that the wage bill will take up nearly two-thirds of the revenues collected.

Shall we remind the President that as he spoke of teachers taking innocent little children as “hostages”, it might have skipped his mind that the Auditor General’s report on the wastage in Government had not been adequately responded to. Nobody knows where Sh67 billion that the auditor pointed out as unaccounted for went. Cabinet secretaries said they would bring the records (which they didn’t give to the auditor in the first place to show they used the money well), but Kenyans simply want the money.

You can’t on one hand turn a blind eye to an independent office such as that of the Auditor General screaming about theft of public resources and, without batting an eyelid, tell teachers you have no money.

In a country where the whole Cabinet admits that it has 12,000 ghost workers, and that it has been spending Sh70 million every month (Sh1.8 billion a year) to pay “ghosts”, it is difficult for teachers to agree that there’s no money for their pay increase.

It is not good politics, because it is not believable.