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Only a crash diet will plug hole in budget

KIPKOECH TANUI
By By KIPKOECH TANUI | March 21st 2014

By KIPKOECH TANUI

You know there is a mismatch between your consumption and earnings when you start counting the coins. You know inflation has sunk its teeth in you when you wince at the supermarket till because the few items on your wire-basket cost Sh3,000. It pains you that two years ago, for such an amount, you needed a trolley.

Nothing tells me about the high cost of living more clearly than the petrol stations, where you are left reminiscing about the days when a litre went for Sh35.

That is what we all do when we look at our payslips; you realise it is probably what the inventor of money wanted it to be — heavy at the top and as thin as the tip of a needle at the bottom.

When you scutinise it you realise you have made too many trips to the Finance and the Sacco manager’s offices for loans and advances.

The natural reaction is always to wake up at night and think about what you really need now, what can wait and what you won’t miss at all. It is here that the counsel of billionaire Warren Buffet rings in the ears: “If you buy things you don’t need, you will soon sell things you need.”

I have lately noticed that with onions, tomatoes and Royco, few shoppers care to buy dhania (coriander), cucumber, pilipili hoho (capsicum) and asparagus because other than for their additional taste to food, a meal is indeed complete without them.

With the rising cost of living, I even wonder how many people still buy butter, sausages (how fast the price has risen!) and other commodities that you realise you can do without.

In short, when caught in the vice of higher demands and a pay package that cannot take care of them, you flip the switch on your survival instinct to ‘ON’. This includes adjusting your consumption, or that of your family to suit the new reality.

You also ensure in enforcing your own version of austerity measures, you don’t starve your family, put them on an imbalanced diet, or even deny them essentials such as education and health. You can change your child’s school to address the rising monthly bills, but you cannot take them out of school altogether. My primary teacher used to make us repeat after him: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”

At this stage, I can tell for sure that the people who know how to quickly adjust to shrinking earnings, rising demands on the payslip the waning power of the shilling are drunks. And I don’t mean the hopeless ones who would rather their children slept hungry so that they get their daily dose of the brew.

No, I mean those who know when it is appropriate to order tots of Jameson or Famous Grouse, and when to move down the ladder to Smirnoff Vodka before knocking on the door of plastic bottles.

This basically is what Kenyans expect President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to lead us in doing. Yes, as a country, we have reached a point where we have to decide if really we must buy that roll of dhania which costs as much a packet of milk, and yet your tongue will hardly ‘notice’ its presence in the food when it is served.

The country is broke. Our annual consumption in this house called Kenya, headed by Uhuru with the help of Ruto, stands at around Sh1.6 trillion. That is what we need for salaries and projects such as infrastructure, education, health, and water as well as electricity supply.  But of these, once the taxman has bled us dry, Sh500 billion goes to salaries, a figure that the State believes it has to tame by retrenching people and freezing salary increases.

Mr & Mrs 10 Per Cent

Then as if things were not bad enough for this our big family, we are indebted to the tune of Sh2.1 trillion. Now, whenever you go to your Sacco manager, you know too well how uncomfortable you are if your total earnings are so close to what you need to pay per month. In fact he or she will courteously advise you to withdraw your application.

There are also rules governing the percentage of your net pay you must take home. This is because the employer knows if you are not bridled, you will over-borrow, and then at some point you won’t be able to work. This is because you will be broke from the first week of the month to the next, with debtors chasing you all over the office, a fact that can lead you into stealing from the company using IOUs and false claims — then you are sent back to the jobless corner.

A friend who works for Government whispered to me a shocking revelation on what really is causing jitters in Uhuru’s Cabinet; there is a Sh50 billion hole in the budget already and you can’t plug it with the cork that comes with a bottle of wine, neither can the Chinese help; they are too stingy and never let out a coin if they don’t see it coming back as two. 

Simply put, even salary cuts won’t take us far and neither would pursuit of such lofty dreams as laptops for schools, which I read somewhere was already inflated by Sh14 billion.

We must simply make the Government lean! We got 18 ministries but too many new officials beneath Cabinet Secretaries, so the wage bill soared. We must also must stop wastefulness. Government buys a biro and toilet paper at more than Sh50. Why? Because of Mr and Mrs Ten Per Cent! There is also a couple called Mr and Mrs Corruption. If you don’t kill them for us Mr President, we will.

As you sharpen the knife to kill this couple, just cut down wastefulness in Government, for it is not a charity home.

In fact if you do it well, you won’t have to send anyone home, meaning more votes in 2017.

The writer is Group Managing Editor (Print) at The Standard.

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