State's messaging failures go beyond housing levy bid

Housing PS Charles Hinga when he appeared before the Senate Devolution and Intergovernmental Relations committee on May 25, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Every drop of the drip of information from Housing and Urban Development PS Charles Hinga erodes government credibility on the housing levy.

It is not a tax. It is a voluntary contribution. But you cannot get your money at will. You will only get your money once you retire. Construction of houses is not guaranteed but depend on uptake from private investors.

The government will allegedly use the fund to depress interest rates, even as its own borrowing rates go up. There are no clear safeguards against corruption but trust them that the housing project will not go in the way of other moribund schemes like the NHIF and NSSF. They have a plan.

All these twists and turns do not signal an administration sure-footed about a major policy proposal; or that can communicate its intentions to Kenyans.

Government policy communication failures go well beyond the housing levy. Importantly, this is not just a Kenya Kwanza problem. Apart from the Kibaki interregnum, the last time the government engaged in serious policymaking was the 1970s.

Getting out of practice on serious policymaking meant also losing focus on policy communication. The entire administrative machinery now treats policy communication as nothing more than merely presidential press statements and commissioning of projects.

If you pose and think for a minute, it is striking that the only major programmatic social policy we have implemented in living memory is the universal free primary education. We like to delude ourselves that we have good policies, and the problem is implementation. Our policies fail because they are seldom well designed. If in doubt, look at the skeletal proposal that is the housing plan.

Serious policy communication ought to keep the public informed in all stages of the process. What is the problem being solved? Who are the exact beneficiaries? Who are the losers and how are they being compensated?

How will the programme be sustained in the long run? Where is the funding coming from? What are the exact implementation timelines and milestones? Who is the responsible and accounting authority?

Above all, policy communication requires transparency. Yet because of our addition to corruption-fueled public investments, secrecy is the default mode of government.

That is why it always feels like the government is being defensive even when they, in actual fact, are just bad at communicating how they intend to spend our money.

The writer is an associate professor at Georgetown University