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Last budget show Uhuru spending beyond means

Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge with Treasury CS Ukur Yatani at the Parliament buildings, Nairobi to present his final 2022/23 budget. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

On Thursday the Cabinet Secretary for Treasury, Ukur Yatani, delivered the Jubilee administration’s last budget. The budget was vintage Jubilee. The revenue projections were too rosy to be achievable.

The planned spending patterns did not match Kenyans’ lived realities (agriculture was largely ignored, as usual). Yet again, CS Yatani pleaded with government agencies to settle pending bills (he will be ignored). And the government maintained its habit of crowding out private sector lending via excessive borrowing.

It may sound like a cliché, but budget is policy. As such, it should reflect our aspirations as a country. Importantly, budget allocations should not be viewed as acts of benevolence coming from the president through his Treasury CS.

As the final authority on the Appropriations and Finance Bills, the National Assembly ought to play a much bigger role in the process than it currently does. Legislators should ensure that appropriations reflect the true needs of their constituents. For those that need a reminder, most of those constituents are subsistence farmers or petty traders living in rural and peri-urban areas.

In putting their stamp on the budget, legislators should balance the twin objectives of ensuring that it reflects what we presently are as a country (largely agrarian and rural) and where we want to go in the future (largely urban and industrialized).

To that end it should have temporal coherence over a period longer than just one-year fiscal cycle or the medium term as defined by treasury. For example, what is our 30-year plan for the agricultural sector?

Do we have a coherent developmentalist agenda for growing the manufacturing sector, and how should we actualize it through the budget?

These questions should animate incoming policymakers in the next administration. While they will inherit a depleted Treasury, one hopes that they will not let the crisis go to waste.

Instead, they should leverage the inevitable process of fiscal restructuring to reorient our spending patterns towards our true needs and aspirations as a country.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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