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Suffering Kenyans need solutions not rhetoric

COMMENTARY
By Isaac Kalua | April 17th 2021

A user guide on how to access Safaricom's Fuliza loan

‘We have become beggars in our own country. Please Mpesa me something if you can’. This message came from a caddie friend of mine. He is a hardworking Kenyan who can no longer make ends meet because of the current economic situation in our country.

It is no surprise that Safaricom’s fuliza loans hit a record 1 billion daily. For millions of Kenyans, such credit was the only way of getting revenue.

Recently the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority was forced to backtrack its earlier announcement of fuel hikes. This move stemmed from widespread public anger over the looming price hike at a time when most Kenyans are struggling. 

Why is our fuel too expensive anyway? This high fuel cost keeps affecting other commodities. Almost half of all the money that we pay for fuel pays for the landed cost. How can we make the storage and distribution of fuel cheaper, because that will impact the overall cost of the fuel.

These measures are however mid and long-term, so other steps must be taken now in order to provide immediate relief to suffering Kenyans. Some of these steps lie squarely in the fuel taxes and levies.

At least half of what we pay at the fuel station goes to government taxes and levies. If these come down albeit temporarily, then the fuel price will come down and consequently, prices of other essential commodities will also come down.

Parliament seems to agree on this point and must thus act speedily. Indeed, Parliament should never act like a powerless bystander when it comes to alleviating citizen suffering. Innovative legislation will go a long way in easing the pain of Kenyans and turbo-charging the economy.

Thankfully, Hon David Gikaria, chairman of the National Assembly Energy committee has indicated that his committee will propose changes to the Finance Bill. He expressed hope that legislators would use that opportunity to critically review fuel taxes and levies.

This conversation is crucial and must extend beyond the halls of parliament. Fundamentally, fuel should power the well-being of Kenyans, and not just be milked as much as possible to fill government coffers.

At least in terms of electrical energy, things seem to be moving in the right direction. Earlier this month, Kenya Power shelved plans to increase electricity bills and instead focus on other revenue protection measures like curbing electricity theft and lowering costs.

Another potential winning solution is coming from the Ministry of Labour. It has fronted the idea of paying laid-off workers in the locked-down counties a monthly stipend. It has proposed to do this through a percentage of IMF’s Sh257 billion loan. On its part, Treasury has proposed creation of an unemployment insurance fund that will provide temporary relief for laid-off workers.

These solutions from the Ministry of Labour, Treasury, Kenya Power and parliament must be effected with urgency. Suffering Kenyans need such solutions. Against this backdrop, we need champions of the people. Champions who will mobilize solutions and resources to put people back to work, heal our economy and heal our bodies. Until now, very few politicians are exhibiting the qualities of such champions. Most politicians including potential presidential candidates are focusing unduly on 2022 politicking at the expense of providing solutions.

The System and the Political class should offer holistic pandemic solutions that will anchor these solutions. They should also mobilize the public and private sectors towards the realisation of these solutions.

That is more important than mobilizing the public towards voting for a particular candidate or coalition.

Indeed, millions of Kenyans are in the same shoes as my caddie friend and feel that they have been reduced to beggars in their own country. They need solutions, not empty words. Think Green, act green!

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