Secret deals, politics behind Sh2 trillion national budget
By Alphonce Shiundu
| June 6th 2015
High-stakes lobbying, secret deal-cutting, and intense politics with a shade of executive pressure engulfed the corridors of the National Assembly as MPs worked out the details of the next national budget due next week.
Details emerging from off-the-record interviews with lawmakers reveal a network of interests that converged to make the MPs cut the budgets of some ministries, and increase the money to other government agencies.
Suppliers, contractors and businessmen eyeing big-money government contracts, or those who had already done some work and were waiting for billions in payment, individually called MPs to ask them to approve the allocations that the National Treasury had done; or to increase the money for designated projects. At one point, the sessions were so heated – the media was locked out – because some MPs could not allow the Sh4.5 billion that the National Treasury had allocated for medical equipment to be touched.
People nearly fought. I was surprised. Why the passions, yet we are just being reasonable, but I learned that some of my colleagues had made promises out there, and were actually in the committee to protect those interests,” an MP told The Standard on Saturday. He sought anonymity so as to speak freely of the closed-door proceedings.
The political playground for the final determination of the Sh1.998 trillion budget was the National Assembly’s Budget and Appropriations Committee, which had a hard time balancing the numbers, and at one point, the chairman Mutava Musyimi had to plead with the MPs to demonstrate leadership.
“There are never easy sessions and there are not easy decisions. There are so many things to balance. The last thing you want to do is begin using your discretion to burst ceilings all over the map because that will create other serious macro-economic problems,” said Musyimi.
His decision to explain his predicament was forced because he was under siege for kowtowing to the wishes of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.
Musyimi was also upset with the verdict of the Parliamentary Budget Office — the team of tax experts, economists and fiscal analysts who advice MPs on the budget and economy — when it decided to back the Sh3.3 billion allocation that the senators had put forward.
However, the Budget Office is a non-partisan body that has to give the “bare facts in the national interest” according to one MP. Hence, its push to retain the money for the counties meant that for the first time, Parliament was able to significantly change the budget from the Treasury, even though the amount is small.
Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Township) was in constant communication with State House, and Musyimi also made trips to the House on the Hill to convince the President that the MPs’ priorities were well thought out. Even the abouturn in the National Assembly over the Division of Revenue Bill, 2015 — assented to on Friday, had to get the President’s blessings.
“Chairs of Committees deal with the Cabinet Secretaries and we (Budget Committee) deal with the Treasury. But every once in a while, the (Budget) Committee meets with the head of the national Government and I normally report these things. There is nothing to hide!” said Musyimi.
But is the lobbying and influence-peddling at the budget process illegal?
According to the Clerk of the National Assembly Justin Bundi, and the Speaker Justin Muturi, the mechanics of making the budget and laws require the lawmakers to “consult and involve the public”, before they deduct or increase allocations, or approve some laws.
“Public participation is mandatory; it is an obligation that we must implement,” said Bundi at a meeting with the Kenya Private Sector Association (Kepsa) in Mombasa’s Whitesands Hotel yesterday.
But the problem is that the engagement with MPs is for now unstructured and prone to bribery or even extortion.
“We need a law to structure the public-private dialogue, so that it allows business to be a true partner to advise and equip the government in policy making, and to bring dignity and prosperity to the Kenyan people,” Kepsa’s vice chairperson Laila Macharia told the meeting.
As the MPs work on how to deal with the businessmen, the departmental committees that negotiate with ministers and State organs have a quarrel with the Budget Committee. After the committees made the changes on increases and reductions, based on experience with absorption levels, wastage and national priorities, the Budget Committee met the National Treasury and rejected the allocations.
This upset the MPs.
Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo led MPs Samuel Chepkonga (Ainabkoi) and Benjamin Langat (Ainamoi) to seek answers why the work of the committees were ignored. Midiwo was angry with Mutava-led committee for rejecting a bid to cut the budget of the Foreign Affairs Ministry because the Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed had “persistently ignored the committee”.
“We have called the CS in charge for consultations but she has refused to appear before the Departmental Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations... We cannot give a blanket authority for anybody to spend taxpayers’ money and yet, we sat for long hours to go through this budget,” said Midiwo.
His problem is that all Amina did was call Musyimi to explain why she missed the committee meetings.
“That she can call a committee means that she has powers over Parliament,” said Midiwo.
Chepkonga too was upset that his team’s recommendations had been ignored.
“...I am upset. It is unfair for me to waste my time, sitting in a committee meeting whose resolutions are not respected,” he said.
When it was all done, the MPs had managed to scrounge around for Sh5.8 billion for parastatals, public and technical universities. It is now upon the Treasury to take on board the proposals and publish them in the Appropriations Bill – the legal instrument to access the budget billions. Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury Henry Rotich is expected to read the Budget Speech next week.
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