If we are broke, Presidency must not be profligate

A protestor holds a plate of ugali on June 11,  2015, outside parliament buildings. [File, Standard]

On a day the President told Kenyans - who feel already overtaxed - to expect further taxation, saying he was not ready to lead a bankrupt country, a contradiction of sorts emerged. Officials from the Office of the Deputy President (DP) tabled in the National Assembly documents to defend a Sh1.12 billion budget request to renovate his office.

Sh660 million will be used to renovate his official Karen residence while Sh460.4 million will do the same work at Harambee House Annex. And that’s not all. Among others, the DP also wants to spend Sh200 million to buy new vehicles and Sh250 million for the purchase of medals, honours and insignia.

There is nothing wrong with any of these requests apart from the fact that they do not seem to come from a government that facing financial straits.

What are the hundreds of homeless people whose houses were destroyed by floods or by government bulldozers in the wake of the recent devastating deluge supposed to make of the request for Sh1.1 billion to renovate the DP’s buildings? What about the thousands of pupils who will go without meals if the government makes good its threat to scrap the school feeding programme in the next financial year?

One wonders whether such a request is coming from the same government that has been unable to pay intern doctors, leading to nearly a two-month work boycott that has caused immense suffering and even deaths in public hospitals. Wouldn’t such a huge amount of money be used to hire teachers on the terms prescribed by the court to end suffering in Junior Secondary Schools occasioned by the ongoing strike?

Not long ago, it was reported that the government had plans to spend Sh1 billion to construct a presidential dais, buy new cars for the State House and spend Sh18 million to buy curtains and furniture for the Deputy President’s office.

There is no secret at all that the government is struggling financially. The President said early this year that out of every Sh10 collected by the Kenya Revenue Authority, Sh7 go to debt repayment. The Treasury has also on several occasions in the recent past announced stringent cost-cutting measures that have shown the government’s seriousness to reduce spending. But these measures don’t seem to apply to the top two - the President and his deputy - going by their budget requests.

Ideally, the Presidency should be at the forefront when it comes to trimming fat if the hustlers are to be convinced to do the same and to pay more taxes. Instead of buying a new fleet worth Sh200 million, the DP’s office can choose to repair the current vehicles if there is a need to. Instead of spending over Sh1 billion on renovation, they can choose to do bare minimal repairs to make the buildings habitable during these hard times, and perhaps use the rest of the money to build makeshift houses for the flood victims. The Presidency can also decide to suspend the issuance of “medals, honours and insignia”, which don’t sound like a pressing matter, and save Sh250 million.

The President is right. In these hard times, we need to live within our means. We must all tighten our belts. The Presidency should lead by example.