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Referendum may be solution to fiscal dilemma

By Francis Atwoli | March 17th 2014

By Francis Atwoli

Kenya: Soon after the March 4 General Election last year, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Kenya conducted a research on the ability of the country’s economy to sustain the various levels of Government under the new constitutional dispensation.

The research, titled The Ability Of The Kenyan Economy To Financially Sustain The Country’s Devolved Governance Structure, established that Kenya’s narrow tax base with hardly two million Kenyans in the formal economy, compared to over 10 million in informal, cannot support the cost of Government.


In fact the findings went further to suggest that for us as a country to come out of the situation, there was need to revisit our Constitution with a view to literally collapsing certain constitutional provisions in order to save the economy.

Based on these findings, Cotu (K) observed that the National Treasury faces a huge burden in its attempts to finance all levels of governance, besides constitutional commissions. The genesis of the current clamour for a reduction on the country’s wage bill no doubt hinges on these findings.

Members of County Assemblies (MCAs), County Executives, Governors, MPs, Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and members of the former Provincial Administration all draw their remunerations from the meagre government resources.

Imminent ruin

Some of the roles of the expanded government and Parliament have been duplicated and a referendum is the best way to go to save our economy from imminent ruin.

Through such a referendum, Kenyans can propose further changes to their Constitution that would see, for instance, Cabinet Sectaries take full responsibility for their respective ministries and sit in Parliament to answer questions.

There is so much happening in various ministries that is likely to cost the central government billions of shillings, yet remain concealed from both the President and his Deputy yet as the Executive, they must remain totally in the know of every tax money spent.

Cotu’s research estimates that in three years our economy will not be able to pay Government salaries unless deliberate attempts are made to spur economic growth at double digits.

At Cotu, we are unhappy with the Ministry of Health over its handling of the crisis following the exodus of doctors from public hospitals.

Cotu warned the Cabinet Secretary that any country that spends billions in taxpayers’ money to train doctors should be ready to listen to their grievances over their terms and conditions of service.

Since these are professionals that are in demand globally they cannot be treated like nursery school children the way the Cabinet Secretary has in recent weeks.

This week, I was surprised to meet two Kenyan doctors working in Algeria, despite the fact that this is a French speaking country.

With the arrogance being exhibited at our trained and qualified doctors and the Government insisting that it has no money to pay them, our public hospitals are likely to remain shells without any qualified medic to attend to hundreds seeking treatment and medication.

No solution

And even the Cabinet Secretary’s call to county governments to pay the medics won’t yield any results because, from the onset, the doctors wanted to remain under the national government as opposed to counties.

As a country, we are in unprecedented circumstances, and as the umbrella workers’ body, Cotu is concerned over the calls for salary cuts in public service.

Clearly, it would have been more prudent for the Government to hand over the ministerial dockets to professionals with relevant knowledge rather than individuals whose decisions only plunge the country into an economic mess. 

The writer is Secretary General of Cotu-Kenya and President of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU).

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