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Car grant for MCAs not a priority today

COMMENTARY
By Demas Kiprono | February 12th 2021

Kenya is undergoing unprecedented economic strain. This is as a result of an economic recession exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic; an external debt burden that takes up a huge chunk of our revenue; huge recurrent expenditure and runaway corruption that takes up a third of our revenue according to the office of the Auditor-General.

In February 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) advised Kenya to formulate clear policies to address the “debt vulnerability”, which could rise further if we continue our borrowing trends.

There is real need for the government to cut down on recurrent expenditure; close all corruption loopholes and institute serious austerity measures.

These measures usually include changes in government programmes to limit the terms of social welfare programme cuts or other government safety nets; reduction in government wages and benefits; an upward adjustment to the retirement age; tax reforms that increase income taxes, and perhaps privatisation of public businesses to raise money for paying debts.

In recent times, the government has indeed set up certain initiatives to save money, including increasing taxes and even expanding taxable income.

Another measure is the September 2020 government directive to freeze the hiring of new civil servants for three years for all ministries, State departments and agencies as a measure to contain the wage bill.

There has also been new impetus by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption.

The drafters of the Constitution 2010 also put in place control measures to ensure that government borrowing is done prudently, as well as ensuring that benefits, salaries and remuneration is done in a manner that takes into account the economic realities and to also ensures that public officers do not determine their own pay.

Parliament plays an important role in the management of public debt by setting a ceiling on what amount the government can borrow.

In October 2019, Parliament raised the ceiling to Sh9 trillion which raised eyebrows seeing that we already spend more than 50 per cent of our revenue on servicing debts. 

According to IMF, Kenya’s public debt is projected to reach 69.8 per cent of GDP by 2023. Kenya is expected to drastically reduce public expenditures from 22.4 to 19.2 per cent of GDP by 2023.

This means there will be very little money to improve terms and conditions, including for healthcare workers. 

Speaking of which, in January 2021, the Council of Governors declared that counties did not have the money to improve pay for doctors, nurses and clinical officers.

This came months after it emerged that some healthcare workers were forced to work without being facilitated with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) amid a pandemic.

This week, it emerged that the COG had budgeted Sh4.5 billion for car grants for Speakers and Members of County Assemblies, and that the Salary and Remuneration Commission (SRC) had given them the nod to roll out the grants after a review.

This comes weeks after the President and ODM leader dangled the same carrot in exchange for passing the BBI Constitutional Amendment Bill in the counties.

 Public compensation

The optics of the whole car grant fiasco raises critical issues with regard to government priorities; fiscal responsibility; and independence of SRC- which is bound by their mandate to ensure that the total public compensation bill is fiscally sustainable.

The money could have been put into good use to ensure hospitals are well equipped and that healthcare workers are properly taken care of, especially during a pandemic. 

Kenyans thought that long gone were the days when the Executive would dangle a carrot to entice legislators to further certain agenda.

The SRC was supposed to step in to guard the sovereignty of the people of Kenya; secure the observance by all State organs of democratic values and principles; and promote constitutionalism.

Mr Kiprono is a Constitutional & Human Rights Lawyer. [email protected] 

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