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NASA or Jubilee? Whoever wins this election has their work cut out

By XN Iraki | Published Sat, February 11th 2017 at 10:12, Updated February 11th 2017 at 10:19 GMT +3
Nakuru nurses signing solidarity song outside Nakuru County Government offices on February 3, 2017. PHOTO: KIPSANG JOSEPH

To hoi polloi, the 2017 General Election is about the presidency, whether Uhuru will get another five years or pass the baton to someone else. We are still wondering loudly why the presidency attracts so much interest despite devolving power to counties. Everyone wants to be a governor? Fuata nyuki ule asali...

My hunch tells it will be Odinga vs Uhuru. It is unlikely that after getting so close, Raila can now say tosha to someone else. But it’s not inconceivable for him to say tosha a second time. The line up in National Super Alliance (NASA), which should not be confused with America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is eagerly awaited.

The longer our NASA waits, the harder it will be to deal with fallouts after naming the flag bearer. Our NASA (which is earthbound unlike America’s NASA which took us to the moon and other planets in the solar systems) should decide on the flag bearer and deal with the consequences. A bad decision is better than no decision; you get time to improve on it.

The political stakes are well known but constrained by a leech, the new constitution which reduced the powers of our President, unlike Tanzania’s. The euphoria and great expectations are constrained by economic reality. No matter who wins, counties will get their share of national revenues. There is a finite number of government positions that can filled freely by the victors.

As we found from KANU to NARC transition, the euphoria dies quickly and the sun still rises from the East. The growing season does not change, and reality catches up too fast. Enough digression. Let us address the economic stakes.

Economic stakes

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First; and this might be stretching the truth. The economy is loaded with debts both local and external. Some have boldly suggested that loading the country with lots of debts, make political sense. The alternative is to increase taxes which rattle voters the wrong way. But it goes further and becomes more interesting.

If you were to sell a company, you clean it up; clear the debts make it profitable, change the brand name, the value goes up, and then sell it. Could it be that Jubilee is doing the opposite, make the company (Kenya) as unattractive to the buyers (opposition) as possible? Is debt the poisoned chalice for whoever would take the government after Jubilee, if that happens?

Jubilee had their poisoned chalice -new constitution, which some of its key leaders opposed but are now implementing. For NARC, it was cases like Goldenberg and grabbing of public land during KANU era. If you check, most of the public land was allocated around 1992, when KANU had sensed defeat and decided, “an elephant does not die with its tusks”. It does not matter who takes over the government, national debt will be an issue to deal with.

Two is the agitation for higher salaries by government employees. The best brains (you can dispute that) in the land are currently on strike, the university dons and medical doctors. The industrial actions are well timed, when the polls are around the corner. It does matter who wins, he must deal with expected salary raises and get the money. Will he borrow or raise taxes? The new President or the incumbent would not want to start the term with new taxes. It is therefore likely that the next President or the incumbent will continue borrowing.

Three is jobs. This is where it gets complicated. If the incumbent wins a second term, he can afford to make hard decisions; he does not need another term. He can resist over employment. But if we get a new President, he must reward his voters with plum positions. This is what is raising the stakes in 2017. Public Service Commission lists about 700,000 government jobs including teachers and county level workers, a trickle in the ocean. Most can’t be sacked to be replaced with cronies, friends or voters.

There were murmurs that NARC never sacked anyone after taking power from KANU. But lots of government jobs are “protected.” It’s hard to sack teachers, police, army etc. Alternative is to hire more, and borrow more to pay them. Who said national leadership is bliss? Could the new administration be tempted to appeal to “face of Kenya” to relieve some people off their jobs? What of the political backrush?

Fourth is economic growth. With so many constraints, the new President or incumbent has to grow the economy and make it private sector driven. That is where most jobs are. How does he catalyse economic growth?

He must initiate economic reforms. One is to reduce the number of unproductive employees, thanks to technology. How comes ministries were reduced to 21 but no jobs were lost? Private sector calls such reduction right sizing, or a harsher term retrenchment. That has been the soft underbelly of every regime since Structural Adjustment program (SAP) in the 1980s. Do you recall President Moi ordering government agencies to increase the number of employees by 10 per cent?

SAP reversed that with “golden handshakes “that sent egg prices plummeting to rock bottom as every retrenched worker started rearing chicken. Regulatory reforms are needed to catalyse growth. Can he reduce the high farm inputs from fertiliser to power? Farmers are subsidised world over, why not ours? And needless to say, lots of firms have stopped production in Kenya because of high costs.

Indeed it so hard to do business in Kenya, as shown on the table on the left. Improving transport network would make the economy more efficient and create more jobs. The human factor- corruption and bureaucracy drag job creation.

Who will slay the dragon?

Job creators are besieged by county governments, national government and regulatory bodies. All the permits cost money and means less incentives to expand production. While the new Company Act is a welcome relief to ease of doing business, more needs to be done to make life easier for entrepreneurs or businessmen, who run the government with their taxes. Governments should be businessmen’s best friend.

Data shows that is not the case; Kenya is ranked 92 out of 190 countries on ease of doing business We are only among the top 50 in ease of getting credit ( this was before interest cap law), Even paying taxes is difficult! What measures will the new President or the incumbent take to make Kenya a more business-friendly country?

Five is the end of old economic order at both local and global levels. At the local level, everyone has tasted the niceties and the conveniences of modern capitalism, where money is the measure of your worth. Blame increased access to education. No wonder corruption is thriving. In the past, only a few people enjoyed the trappings of modernism from cars to good houses, good schools and publicity. One county official told me with a smile that devolution is good because everyone now can’eat’. True, he or she appeared well fed! At the global level, the winner in 2017 must address Trumponomics, with old treaties shredded, borders closed and protectionism on the rise. What of Brexit and China? How will he balance local and global interests?