100 days is too short a time to gauge the Ruto administration

President William Ruto when he received instruments of power from his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta at Kasarani Stadium during his inauguration as the 5th President of Kenya on September 13, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Eleven Bills were passed into law. 42 executive orders were issued, and 62 from the previous administration were reversed. That’s a small titbit from the number crunching done by National Public Radio (NPR) on US President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office. One Bill was particularly significant; the $1.9 trillion (Sh233 trillion) American Rescue Plan that is now biting back with rising interest rates to stamp down on subsequent inflation. Then again, America is a $23 trillion (read, gazillion shilling) economy. Kenya is a $115 billion (Sh14 trillion) economy.

President William Ruto’s first 100 days came up yesterday, (and I still insist for the record that this 100-day metric is an irritating false flag), so what must we judge his Kenya Kwanza administration on? After all, he only got his Cabinet on Day 44, and Principal Secretaries on Day 80. His first signature initiative, the Hustler Fund (which in the fullness of time should really be termed the Hustler Platform), was rushed through on Day 78. And Day 100 is only 135 days after our August election, with another 1,692 days left to August 10, 2027.

Since we are already here, let’s look at these first 100 days. We might begin with the UDA/Kenya Kwanza manifesto (the published version, not the initial wild-eyed one) referred to as “The Plan”. A continuation of the “Big Four Agenda” with digitisation thrown in for good measure, the campaign commitments targeted agriculture, MSMEs, housing, healthcare and digital plus creative (yes, politicians are transient, but the government is permanent). On all of these, there have been loud noises, but 100 days is too short a time to understand if this is the noise of structural reform.

The trouble, of course, is that the Big Four is, in reality, a devolved agenda; for counties. So the immediate question is if agriculture changes with a “fertiliser-crops-fertiliser” import plan, as well as many water dams, or if the pensions industry (remember NSSF?) should be financing affordable housing. Or how the Hustler Fund will transmute into supporting universal health care and social security. And, to repeat, which are these digitisable 5,000 government services when e-citizen is an ongoing court case? One gets a transactional feel of a missing big picture in what we hear.

The manifesto itself contained around 170 commitments to Kenyans. If we step away from big promises to commission inquiries into State capture and gross human rights violations and enforced disappearances, we are left with proposed funds for infrastructure, housing, settlement, chronic illness, film, fuel stabilisation, national lottery, sporting heroes, national skills, social welfare and police family benevolence. For the record, according to the National Treasury, Kenya has around 80 salaries and allowances earning public funds with boards, secretariats and juicy procurement.

And this is probably where the hard policy questions begin. Emergency cash inflows from the IMF, World Bank and others suggest that we need to fix our fiscal basics. Especially before the 2024 “bullet payment” moments when Eurobond and China’s SGR debt materialise. Bretton Woods institutions have told us that we are pretty much at a “high debt distress” level. And you can’t grow the tax take if you aren’t growing the economy. The economic dog must wag its fiscal tail. It's probably why Kenya cannot afford more economic promises from our political leaders. Especially with our economic pricing troika – shilling, inflation, interest rates – wobbly right now.

Which is probably the most interesting observation about this Kenya Kwanza administration. We still do not have a publicly known economic, and fiscal, framework 100 days into office. At a process level, it’s still unclear that Vision 2030 is the development framework. In the original timetable of inherited order, its fourth Medium-Term Plan should have been launched by now.

Then, of course, we have the national budget process. The always excellent Parliamentary Budget Office cost the Kenya Kwanza manifesto an incremental Sh2.67 trillion, with Sh473 billion required in the first year (presumably 2023/24). For some unfathomable reason, we like to throw ostensibly good money after a status quo of bad money. After which we expect economic growth.

Kenya struggles with three issues. Productivity and competitiveness on the economic front. Human capital development on the socio-economic front. Rule of law on the governance/political front. If I reluctantly hark back to 100 days, we miss this feeling of the government’s progress agenda.

Some may find this assessment harsh. A great joint media piece published recently by Treasury and the World Bank spoke to our impressive human capital while warning of our productivity challenge.  A simple translation of their view on the economy was that we rely on government spending and private consumption. At the extreme, this sounds like government waste and private “bling bling”. The bigger point they made was we don’t save, and we love to stifle the private sector.

The IMF’s board, in approving our latest loan instalment, offers equally useful advice on going stronger with the structural (read, parastatals) reform that is long overdue in Kenya. International credit rating agencies are already mapping Kenya towards where Ghana currently sits and sleeps. As President, I want Dr Ruto to throw out his manifesto and bring his great energy to these issues.

Let’s go a bit further. Our president has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform Kenya. But this needs him to be as effective as he is clearly efficient. One effective measure of this 100-day mark might be his announcing a comprehensive economic and fiscal plan that accords with the nascent, yet promising, social opportunity that Kenya represents. A vision with a vision. It is surprising that his back-office tinkering is yet to publish a cost-cutting supplementary budget or an imaginative first full budget policy statement. But I am writing before the fact; he just might.

Yet, this is where the game changes. If I was thinking about 100 days, it would go beyond the state of our fiscus, or our monetary stance with a shilling that just might be 10-15 per cent overvalued.  It would go back to our economic policy basics. The role that counties might play in our productivity for competitiveness matrix given that private sector operates in actual counties, not a national abstract. The shape and size of a “fit for purpose” government is a 75 per cent deadweight loss across 500-plus entities. The idea that every MDA requires serious re-engineering. And the thought that an increased tax take is not about fiscal consolidation, but value for money.

Let’s put it this way. We are observing efficiency. Now we need effectiveness. Only then shall excellence emerge. Probably not in 100 days, but maybe in the 12-to-18-month honeymoon. Oh, and if we are still counting, Kenya Kwanza is doing a fraction of its 170 campaign promises. The poetry now needs prose; but this needs a mindset about the next generation, not the next election

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