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How long before the bubble bursts?

COMMENTARY
By Tania Ngima | October 27th 2015

This week I was going to take a break from talking about Kenya’s economy. There are a thousand other attention-grabbing things to focus on, I reckoned. And they are not all negative. From the anticipated Pope’s visit, minors turned revellers, drivers behaving badly - there is really no shortage of conversations to have.

In fact, there is a particular discourse that I must refer to because it shows how much strength there is in the power of collective and concerted engagement.

You will recall Clause 34 in the contentious Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2014. The clause sought to bar journalists and media houses from publishing information against Parliament, its committees or proceedings, which it deemed as defamatory by imposing punitive jail terms. Leave alone that the term ‘deem’ is subjective and a matter of opinion.

The can of worms that the clause was opening up would have led to a blackout on any inquiry into the action or inaction by parliamentarians. Secreting of information is an act of tyranny, to say the least and would have set us back light years in the struggle for emancipation from the whims of poor leadership.

But the war has not been won. The third reworked bill will be tabled for reading and your bet is as good as mine that there will be another attempt to curtail the freedoms that are enshrined in the Constitution.

While we must continue to be vigilant against these disingenuous actions (the apt phrase would be wolf in sheep’s clothing) it is not lost on us that if the lawmakers were to devote the same attention to leading as they devote to protecting themselves and their ill-gotten gains, we would not be dealing with the sheer chaos that has become the country’s livelihood. And at the risk of digressing, this brings me to the day’s topic.

Unless you have been living under a disproportionately large rock, it is hard to miss the insinuations, both internally and externally, of Kenya being referred to as Africa’s Greece. Without getting into too much detail, it is worth noting that we should, at this point, do anything and everything necessary to arrest any further downward recession of the economy.

Puns aside, in 2013 Greece’s economy was in its 6th year of recession, the government’s foreign debt had increased to 180 per cent of GDP and one in ten of the population live in extreme poverty.

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In fact, at the time, even the IMF admitted that it had no idea the economic situation would deteriorate as quickly as it did. If that does not make all of us sit up and pay attention, then I don’t know what will.

But if we are going to compare ourselves to Greece then we owe it to our economy to not reinvent the wheel and to learn from the Grecian missteps.

In criticism of the financial bailouts, certain quarters voiced their reservations regarding terming growth projections as optimistic (a term we have heard being used over and over again regarding Kenya) and the role that debt restructuring and the private sector should have played in the rescue package.

We have clearly become a nation of bailouts. And while I say this in a tongue-in-cheek way, it is worth considering the impact on the economy that these bailouts have; it is certainly not free money and in all cases, they are a transaction with an expected Return on Investment. The only question is, who ultimately pays the price for these decisions?

While Kenya engages in talks around receiving a bailout loan from the IMF, I cannot help but wonder to what extent the austerity measures are going to hurt Kenyans, and whether this bailout is really necessary.

Austerity measures only make sense if they are applied uniformly. If tax rises are to be considered (KRA is already being asked to widen the tax net, you can guess what will come next), then spending cuts must also be implemented.

But when the Government admits that it has, since 2010, had staff on its payroll whose positions were made redundant by the Constitution, you have to wonder whether the show of remedying the country’s economy is all a public relations exercise.

Even worse, while 40,000 jobs are on the line, our precious parliamentarians go ahead and attempt to increase their pay offs by claiming additions to their retirement package.

Apparently, in addition to the numerous perks, the lawmakers deserve a ‘soft emotional landing’ in the form of a rescue plan to save them from a life of extreme poverty and give them access to psychiatric and counselling services. I personally think they need psychiatric services but it is not for the same reasons that they do, and certainly not on the tax payer’s bill.

Someone tell me that this bill is a cruel joke because if it is not, we should all as Kenyans, sit and weep. After which we need to liberate them from this life of selfless servitude that we thrust upon them.

It is the only right thing to do.

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