Budget 2023: Rubber meets the road as fresh pain visits Kenyans

Majority Leader in the National Assembly Kimani Ichung'wa, Treasury CS Njuguna Ndung'u, Majority Chief Whip in the National Assembly Silvanus Osoro and Kilifi North MP Owen Baya at the parliament on June 15, 2023, before the CS read the budget statement. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

These estimates contain Article 233 expenditures processed and paid by the National Treasury now presented for retroactive approval by Parliament. That the National Assembly has refused to provide approvals in some instances implies a state of fiscal chaos during this 2022/23 transition.

It is no wonder that the IMF has demanded that the Auditor-General conducts a forensic audit of Article 233 expenditures within the wider framing of effective supplementary budgets. Maybe we need to take those claims, especially by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua starting at the presidential inauguration, about inheriting "dilapidated government or finances" more seriously!

Wouldn't a proper forensic review of the 2022/23 transition, especially the final days, be the way to pursue claims about wanton looting and grabbing? Indeed, this review could offer a clever segue into the state capture inquiry that was one of Kenya Kwanza's flagship electoral promises.

Interesting things

But we digress. Now that we have the budget laws in place, one of the more interesting things to observe of late has been the dearth of commentary on Kenya Kwanza's 2023/24 budget picture.

This picture is usually painted in billions and trillions of shillings that are unfathomable to the everyday Kenyan. Taking the final numbers presented in the June 15 Budget Statement, and depending on whether or not you believe in (debt) redemption, what does a Sh3.68 trillion, or a Sh4.53 trillion national budget actually tell us, and what will it buy?

That's what we might ask. To be fair, after the Treasury Cabinet Secretary's Budget Statement, the only leader who seems happy to explain the budget is President Ruto himself, though his one-man crusade often harks to those mythical billions and trillions that are beyond the imagination of the hustlers he addresses.

Internalising their jobs

It doesn't help that Kenya Kwanza political honchos are busy crowing over their legislative win on the Finance Bill, now Act, while Cabinet Secretaries look like they are still internalising their jobs.

Can we paint a simpler budget picture? Normally, we do this by relating each budget item to total revenue. But we live beyond our means, so why not relate each item to total spending? Let's translate the Sh4.53 trillion gross budget into an easier Sh1,000 hustler budget equivalent.

Starting from the top, this Sh1,000 budget breaks down into Sh510 for the national government, Sh405 for CFS - consolidated fund services (constitutionally mandated costs) and Sh85 for all 47 county governments (an average of less than Sh2 per county government).

Parliamentary Finance Committee chairman Kuria Kimani when he addressed the media on the Finance Bill at parliament in Nairobi on June 13, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

If we assume a 75-25 recurrent-development budget ratio across counties, this Sh1,000 splits as Sh814 recurrent versus Sh186 development across general government (the combined total of the State, including CFS, and county governments). Does this big picture surprise you?

In case you were wondering, the national executive accounts for Sh495 of the Sh510 we call national government; the other Sh15 is split between our Judiciary and bicameral Parliament. If we break the numbers down a little more, that Sh495 for the national executive spreads as Sh132 on the wage bill, Sh164 on development and Sh199 on operations and maintenance or other, mostly representing transfers to cash-guzzling parastatals and Semi-Autonomous Government Agencies (SAGAS), not the actual purchase of goods and services.

If you're looking for graft these days, try the development budget, or agencies, not buying.

We now call it budgeted corruption - you don't steal from the budget; you budget for the stealing!

Before we return to our Sh510 national government, let's take a quick peek at that Sh405 in CFS. Pensions account for Sh42 while other constitutional costs take up Sh5.

These are rounded-up numbers, but we are left with a CFS balance of Sh359 which represents debt service.

That's Sh171 in debt interest (Sh138 domestic, Sh32 foreign) and Sh188 in debt redemption (Sh83 domestic, Sh105 foreign). Lest we forget, debt interest is now the largest single line item in the recurrent budget, above both the wage bill and development and its domestic component exceeds the wage bill. To square the circle for those who view debt redemption as an automatic "below the line" rollover or refinancing item, your Sh3.68 trillion budget would read as Sh812.

Finance management system

Sadly, our public finance management system (IFMIS et al) cannot provide a comprehensive view of the general government (national plus counties) at a sectoral level, as it should. So we lack a quick reference source on the totality of government spending on agriculture or health or water or even trade and industry.

Let's stick with what we have as the sectoral breakdown of the national government's Sh510 (again, lacking data on the Sh595 going to both levels of government).

Expectedly, education tops at Sh139 (27 per cent of the national government budget), followed by energy, infrastructure and ICT at Sh103 (20 per cent).

At the other end, contemporary human priority areas such as health at Sh31 (six per cent), environment at Sh27 (five per cent), agriculture at Sh19 (four per cent) and social protection at Sh15 (three per cent) are dwarfed by the statist imperatives of public administration at Sh72 (14 per cent), governance, justice, law and order at Sh51 (10 per cent) and national security at Sh42 (eight per cent).

Commercial affairs sector

Strikingly, the growth-facilitating economic and commercial affairs sector has the lowest budget share at Sh10 (two per cent).

Several funds or other special purpose arrangements can be found within these sectoral allocations. Again, thinking about an overall budget of Sh1,000 of which the national government accounts for Sh510, consider that the national government CDF budget allocation is Sh12, the equalisation fund has Sh2 and the national government affirmative action fund has Sh1.

The budget for all the nine main social safety nets adds up to Sh8.

These sectoral numbers are pretty generic, but fortunately, Kenya Kwanza had "the plan" which they translated into Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA).

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