President Uhuru Kenyatta’s announcement that he will unveil the first housing project under his Big 4 agenda, will no doubt breathe life into his legacy. Ensuring the availability and affordability of housing for working Kenyans is just one of Kenyatta’s legacy agenda, which also includes job creation, food security and universal healthcare.
But then, there have been misgivings about the Big 4, especially the Affordable Housing Scheme with many questioning the government’s wisdom in getting involved in such a venture and leaving out more critical sectors like say, transport that offer a multiplier effect on the economy and on a much bigger scale.
There has been widespread rejection from workers’ unions (FKE and Cotu) and even teachers who constitute a huge chunk of the country’s employees. They want nothing to do with the housing project, perhaps because going by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, putting food on the table rather than a house or getting to work cheaply and safely are more important to a person earning less than Sh20,000 monthly than, say, a house. For those who can afford, did those who thought through the proposals factor in the glut in the housing market?
The workers unions all wonder why hard-pressed workers have to dig deeper into their pockets to fund the new project despite paying exorbitantly for water, security, health and education and transport even as they pay PAYE and VAT. Mr Kenyatta’s grand project suffers from an inherent problem when misinformation precedes the hard facts. And not just about the Affordable Housing, but the Big 4 in general.
Actually, most of those opposed to the housing plan do it on the basis of what they will give away (1.5 per cent deduction of gross salary) and not what they will get in return- a house in well-planned surroundings with lighting, water and sewerage connection, security, good road connections and perhaps even a train to hitch a cheap ride to a shopping mall.
That is missing in the narrative given to the public and could help explain the lukewarm attitude. Out there is the story of how the deductions will eat into the take-home salary of most Kenyans who are already bearing a heavy tax-load. And while those who do not qualify can get back their contributions in 15 years with interest, little is known about this part of the plan.
On the Big 4 as a whole, the worry among many Kenyans is how President Kenyatta will implement his pet projects without raising taxes. Recent Government reports indicated that the project might gobble up nearly half a trillion shillings in just two financial years, putting a strain on the country’s dwindling revenues. Furthermore, most of these projects have a long lag period, meaning return on investment will take a much longer period of time to accrue and could starve the coffers of cash.
The President desires that the Big 4 Agenda is private-sector driven. Sadly, by not countering the misinformation, his government is doing too little to woo them - especially the employers- to his side.