President William Ruto has said the Sh50 billion Hustler Fund he promised during campaigns will be up and running by December this year.
Dr Ruto said this even as he blamed Opposition leader Raila Odinga for the high food prices and the rising cost of living in the country.
Speaking during the launch of Thiba Dam in Kirinyaga County yesterday, President Ruto said the kitty, which targets micro, small, and medium, enterprises (MSMEs), will give loans to groups at low-interest rates.
“The Fund will be ready by December. You will access the money through groups and the Savings and Credit Co-Operative Society (Saccos), you have to be ready. We do not want to charge high-interest rates that is why we are thinking of a single-digit interest rate,” said the Head of State.
While hitting out at Mr Odinga, Ruto said the ODM leader had failed to keep the Jubilee government in check while in opposition, and allowed food prices to escalate over four years.
“I want to tell those people who are criticising us about the cost of living to let us be. We shall not use the same route you used. You had your chance, and you offered flour subsidy which never benefited the people,” he said.
President Ruto said the flour subsidy which cost the State Sh8 billion was spent in one month and proved unsuccessful.
“You cannot take us back there; we have better plans unlike you. We shall spend the same money to give farmers six million bags of subsidised fertiliser for farmers to grow food and reduce prices,” he said.
President Ruto stated that they had a different approach to boost food security. “They were subsidising consumption, but we are investing in production, it is a world of difference and we are going to teach them agricultural economics,” he stated.
He blamed the previous regime which he was part of for the food price hikes, specifically flour from Sh90, to Sh250 in four years.
President Ruto was Uhuru Kenyatta’s deputy under the Jubilee regime.
Mr Odinga has not been in government since 2013 when he was Prime Minister under the late President Mwai Kibaki’s term in office. He however cooperated with Mr Kenyatta under a handshake.
Dr Ruto said his government’s efforts were focused on bringing down food prices in the long term, adding that they were a lasting solution to food security in the country.
“We want a permanent solution to food production in Kenya, and therefore I would like to reassure Kenyans we have a plan,” he said.
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa, Governors Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga) Cecily Mbarire (Embu) and Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi) were present.
Gachagua also hit out at Azimio leaders including Mr Odinga, and Martha Karua, as well as Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho.
Highlighting the tussle for control of Wanguru Stadium under the previous government and the alleged victimisation of chiefs, Mr Gachagua said Kirinyaga residents were finally free following the success of President Ruto in the August polls.
“The people of Kirinyaga now know what freedom is following your election. They used to be intimidated, and they were not at peace, it is unfortunate they could not even use Wanguru Stadium due to politics,” he said.
Gachagua assured civil servants, that the government would not force them to engage in politics.
He vowed to get the keys to Wanguru Stadium to hand it over back to the county government.
“I want to thank the people of Kirinyaga for voting for President Ruto and Kenya Kwanza government despite a powerful civil servant and a deputy presidential candidate from this county. You went against them and voted us in,” he said.
Mr Ichungwa, described the election of President Ruto as the ‘true freedom’ to the people, noting that the residents now have access to resources.
“I would like to encourage you Mr President that don’t be dissuaded by those few people who are trying to incite Kenyans in Nairobi on high food prices. The solution lies to increasing food production, and increasing irrigation,” he said.
The majority leader also told off Azimio leaders stating that despite their opponents picking a DP from Gichugu, Kirinyaga voters had chosen Gachagua - an indication of the support for President Ruto.
On rice production, the President noted that while Mwea Irrigation Scheme - the main beneficiary of Thiba Dam grows 80 per cent of all the rice consumed in Kenya, only 250,000 tonnes were produced from the area, yet a total of 900,000 tonnes of rice is imported into the country to supplement demand.
“We have enough land to grow food for our people and we intend to carry out similar projects in Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Tana River, Garissa, Kisumu, Migori, Busia, Turkana and Baringo. We have 200 million acres of land that we can use to grow rice which we are currently importing,” he stated.
The Head of State lauded the Japanese government for its support in completing the project. “I convey our gratitude on behalf of the people of Kenya to your people for your support,” he said.
He also thanked locals who gave up their land for the project and moved out to pave way for the dam. “We need to balance the interest of farmers and consumers as we work towards food security,” Ruto promised.
The President assured Kenyans that his government was working to improve access to loans, noting they fixed Fuliza - a credit facility from Safaricom and lenders.
“We started the changes by asking them to reduce the charges for Fuliza by 50 per cent. My government shall have the Hustler Fund address the high-interest rates and I want to assure you that we shall have it in place by December,” he said. The kitty, he said, was already being piloted.