Ruto team should end leniency pleas and figure out a bold plan to stability

President William Ruto. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

In exactly 21 days after William Samoei Ruto was declared president-elect, the Brits got Liz Truss as their Prime Minister on September. And 45 days later, the Truss era was over. Rishi Sunak with Kenyan origins is the new Prime Minister of Britain.

On the Kenyan side, the President is pleading for leniency in the assessment of his first month in office. Of course, nobody expects anything near the scenes in London to play down here. The two economies are worlds apart in democracy, socialisation, governance and values while in public office. But given our colonial heritage, Britain still remains the first line of prefecture should anything go so horribly wrong in our nascent self-rule to warrant external intervention.

Unfortunately, we cannot unwind the clock of history. But we can learn and build better for ourselves into the future. Thus, it is good manners to take note of the level of accountability and leadership responsibility that our former masters have demonstrated.

Michael Jacobs, in an article on the Inside Story on October 8, 2022, characterizes the chaotic political and power scenes on 10 Downing Street for those 45 days as ‘The Truss Effect’. He opines that very few government leaders of any country make such impacts so quickly.

The Sterling Pound fell to its lowest value against the dollar and the government cost of borrowing rose by more than a fifth.

There are several perspectives as to what may have gone irredeemably wrong for Liz Truss. Candy Rain on an opinion article of The Conversations sums it up into poor 5Ps, that is, Politics, Policy, Presentation, Positioning and Party process. A tax policy that cushioned the wealthy, ignoring the majority middle and poor, and an estimated £60 billion unfunded government spending seems to be the deal that sealed her fate. According to this view, politics is a business about the people. Truss failed to connect with her people emotionally or demonstrate believable empathy for their economic struggles. The question that we must now pose to our Hustler government is whether they have learned anything from these events.

Incoherent policies

In the language of my ancestors, iron is molded only when it is hot. Figuratively, therefore, if the Hustlers will deliver us from the Jubilee’s failed economic policies, then it must be evident right from the onset. They have absolutely no luxury for policy gaffes. Any misstep significantly counts given the precarious economic situation they have inherited.

Unfortunately, so far there seem to be no tangible indicators that they have figured out a clear path to stability. For the record, prayers will not solve our problems. From this desk, five things will play a critical role in shaping the legacy of this administration on their first term in office.

These include how they handle the ongoing drought and famine; the budget cuts proposition; subsidies towards the cost of living; the debt crisis; and the Public Service benefits and allowances. Let us now unpack each one of them.

On famine response, it is strange that we still do not have an organised official actionable agenda to avert the suffering of an estimated 4.5 million victims of the drought.

The media has adequately publicized the grave situation that folks are going through in the Northern Frontier counties, the coastal region, parts of lower eastern and now in sections of the Mt Kenya region.

There have been tales of embarrassed people having to queue for relief food in parts of Central Kenya for the first time in memorable history on social media.

Other than flagging an undisclosed quantity of relief food a couple of times, it is unclear what the official position is to provide the urgent relief required to save lives. To the best of my knowledge, social protection policy toward famine response shifted to providing target households with cash coupons to buy their own food.

This is in order to preserve the dignity of the beneficiaries, eliminate brokers and respect cultural choices. What we need as a matter of necessity of a realistic stimulus package, mapping out regions and affected households, and a transparent cash transfer system for a pre-determined period and intervals. The delays in the short rain season is evidence that we will be stuck in this crisis for several days to come.

This connects to the second issue of what type of subsidies to provide. With the Unga and fuel subsidy not optional for this administration, the impacts and success of the fertilizer subsidy is an extremely risky gamble. It assumes there will be reliable rainfall and that farmers have the money to buy the subsidised fertilizer. The weatherman has already signaled depressed rains for the short rainfall season or presumably targets medium to large-scale farmers. How will the hustler peasants access it and in what quantities? What will be the return on investment should the rains fail?

Elephant in the room

The most difficult part of the game, however, is confronting the dogmas within the government itself. Days ago, the President directed the National Treasury to cut expenditure by at least sh. 300 billion. Talks have gravitated around targeting Public service benefits and allowances, training and conferencing and other basic office essentials. This logic has extensively been propagated by several panelists in live TV shows.

I am sorry to opine that most of this talk is highly misinformed and lacks sound economic logic. The basic pay in public service is deliberately set very low because of the consequent impact on the pension burden to the exchequer. Pension for retired officers is based on basic pay and the government has historically run a non-contributory scheme. It is only now that we are transitioning to a contributory one for civil servants aged 45 years and below. The implication is that pension is directly charged against ordinary government revenues.

Attract and retain talent

For the public service to attract and retain talent, then it loads the bulk of compensation on other benefits and allowances that do not have pension implications.

On the budgetary cutting measures, it is ironic the presidency has not demonstrated any intent to tame waste associated with the office as a gesture of good faith. The push to retain the obviously redundant Chief Administrative Secretaries (CAS) position for political expediency inspires no hope there is political goodwill to tame waste.

Targeting training and conferencing in akin to driving nails into the coffin of the recovering hotel and hospitality sector. Most players in this sector in the Coast region, Naivasha/Nakuru and Kisumu are heavily reliant on the government for conferencing incomes. What will happen to these businesses if we implement a carelessly thought-out policy? The bitter truth is that the real enemy of the people is budgeted corruption.

The wealth declared by the Cabinet itself opens a lid on this. The majority of the appointees have largely only served in politics and public service. There are no publicly known businesses associated with these individuals. To talk of some undisclosed shares, plots and old-time farming activities as their source of millions is manifest nonsense. For those of us who relate to numbers, it will take a lifetime to achieve such a net worth from a government salary.

Finally, the huge public debt translates into a bottomless hole if it was used to finance budgeted corruption. It has zero returns where it matters most!

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