Why CBK chief Njoroge could get term extension

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Patrick Njoroge addresses the press at his office on Thursday,28,2019. He hassaid there is no fake currency in circulation. [Beverlyne Musili,Standard]

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is likely to reappoint Patrick Njoroge for a second term as governor of the central bank, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

A steady currency, efforts to boost loans to small businesses and market-led bank consolidation put him in good standing to retain the job, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still private.

The president is expected to make an announcement on the regulator’s leadership soon, the people said.

Njoroge, whose first four-year term ends June 18, told reporters last week to direct questions on the subject to the appointing authority. The Kenyatta administration officials failed to return calls when contacted for comment.

Njoroge’s reappointment emboldens him to continue measures that have seen the shilling exchange rate barely move since June 2015, when most other African currencies have seen double-digit depreciation. It also means the currency’s valuation will remain a sticky issue -- Njoroge said the International Monetary Fund, his former employer, made mistakes in calculations that showed the local unit was 17.5 per cent overvalued.

“The shilling defied all to be strong in his first term,” said Tony Watima, a Nairobi-based independent economist. In April, Njoroge told Bloomberg Television that Kenya has “a flexible exchange rate. We do not target a rate or direction.” The central bank doesn’t prop it up, he said.

Last month, the regulator said banks will start offering loans to small businesses for as little as nine per cent. This after the High Court in March annulled a law that limits what lenders can charge for credit at no more than 4 percentage points above the prevailing benchmark rate. Njoroge opposed the cap, saying it complicated monetary policy formulation.

“Increasing loans to small businesses will be one of Njoroge’s key assignments in his second term,” said Habil Olaka, chief executive officer of the Kenya Bankers Association, a lobby of lenders.

Policy makers kept the main lending rate at nine per cent last month for a fifth consecutive meeting on the outlook that inflation would slow, which it did to 5.5 per cent in May. Spells of drought have forced up the cost of food, contributing to price growth accelerating at 6.6 per cent in April, the fastest pace in 19 months. Njoroge said the drought could also see the economy expanding 5.9 per cent this year, compared with earlier forecasts of 6.3 per cent.

Njoroge’s approach of voluntary bank consolidation, as opposed to the Treasury’s failed bid to increase banks’ capital requirements fivefold to force tie-ups, has been vindicated by deals in the pipeline. KCB Group Plc is buying National Bank of Kenya Ltd. and NIC Group Plc and Commercial Bank of Africa Ltd are merging.

“We are not done yet,” Njoroge said on bank consolidation.

Expansionary fiscal policy that’s raising government borrowing, with a budget deficit estimated at 6.1 per cent of gross domestic product in the year ending June, will challenge Njoroge in his second term. The government is in talks with the IMF for a new standby loan should the country face balance-of-payment problems.

Last month, the World Bank approved a $750 million (Sh75.7 billion) loan for Kenya, soon after the government raised $2.1 billion (Sh212 billion) in Eurobonds.