William Ruto: My tough choices for a better Kenya

 President William Ruto during State of the Nation Address, Parliament, Nairobi. [PCS]

President William Ruto on Thursday outlined the ‘tough and painful’ choices his administration has taken to rescue the country from debt trap and economic ruin. 

In his second State of the Nation address, the head of state hailed measures by his government to mitigate the rising cost of living, even as he urged Kenyans to pull together in a speech that highlighted his achievements and pledges for the future.

Amid a countrywide gloom occasioned by the high cost of living, President Ruto said he had “laid a firm foundation for rapid development” across various sectors in his first 14 months in office. 

Among the sectors he highlighted in his speech are agriculture, education, health, housing and security, which he had promised to enhance during the campaigns.

Campaign promises

The Head of State acknowledged challenges to the implementation of his campaign promises, through which he had promised bearable living costs, saying he was committed to implementing the Kenya Kwanza Alliance “plan”.

“Despite enormous challenges and tremendous difficulties, we have made encouraging progress in a positive direction. This has not only vindicated our philosophy of inclusive transformation in the pursuit of shared prosperity, but it has also increased our confidence that we are on the right path and shall, in due course, deliver the transformation of our nation in full,” Ruto told lawmakers.

In a speech that lasted slightly over one hour, Ruto said he had had to make “hard decisions and painful choices” in his quest to transform an economy he has consistently said he inherited battered as a result of unsustainable borrowing.

“We have worked hard, at home and further abroad, to mobilise a broad coalition of bilateral development partners, multilateral development banks and other agencies, which have rallied to pull our country back from the brink of debt distress and set us firmly on the path towards sustainable economic growth,” said Ruto, who added that Kenya was in the World Bank’s and the International Monetary Fund’s good books. 

Most of the tough choices included the removal of food and commodity subsidies, which the president said only incurred unsustainable debt, terming such “wasteful expenditure”.

“The new direction may not be easy, but it is ethical, responsible, prudent and, most importantly, necessary,” said Ruto.

His remarks come amid a push by several players, such as the opposition, for the reintroduction of subsidies to cushion Kenyans from rising food and fuel costs. He gave the latter subject a wide berth in his speech, despite the many complaints over the record-shattering prices of fuel which are only bound to soar higher.

Ruto instead stuck to his strategy of subsidising agricultural production, which he said led to significant increases in crop yield. 

“Today, a 2kg packet of maize flour is selling at a low of Sh145 and a high of Sh175 depending on the brand, down from Sh250,” Ruto told a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate, also stating maize production had increased by 18 million bags.

The president has banked on a fertiliser subsidy programme that he hailed as successful, highlighting feedback from some of its beneficiaries, a strategy he used to show the success of his other interventions.

“Mr President, shamba yangu inametameta (Mr President, my farm is thriving),” Ruto quoted a Mr Samuel Chacha from Kuria.

He also spoke of other plans in the agricultural sector, such as a subsidised maize-drying service to farmers by the National Cereals and Produce Board at a cost of Sh70 per 90kg bag, down from the previous Sh350 per bag. He announced that some 100 mobile driers that will facilitate the programme docked in the country on Wednesday.

Other interventions include enhancing dairy productivity by supplying coolers and a promise of improved prices to coffee farmers “from Sh20 to Sh80, following the allocation of Sh4 billion from the Coffee Cherry Fund”.

Ruto also praised efforts by his government to restructure public sugar mills and the recent waiver of Sh117 billion non-performing debt for State-owned sugar factories. 

On education, the president championed recommendations by the Raphael Munavu-led Presidential Working Party on Education Reform that he said would transform the sector.

He said the team had provided clarity on the transition to the competency-based curriculum, even as it lauded its proposals to overhaul the funding model at the tertiary level, despite the criticism the scholarship-based programme has received over recent months.

He further said that 56,750 new teachers had been employed during his presidency, also noting increased enrolment in teacher-training colleges following a review of entry requirements.

A key campaign promise of Ruto’s was that he would reform the health sector, ensuring the success of the universal health coverage plan. That journey, he said, was on course, citing reforms in the sector such as the new law regime that replaces the National Health Insurance Fund.

New laws

“I am tremendously grateful to this honourable Parliament for enacting the Primary Healthcare Act, the new Social Health Insurance Act, the Digital Health Act and the Facility Improvement Financing Act.

These laws will usher in and guarantee a new era in the provision of healthcare, covering all essential services from preventive, promotive, curative, palliative and rehabilitative services, guaranteeing every Kenyan access to comprehensive and quality care,” he added.

That affordable housing is a key pillar in the president’s agenda has never been in doubt. Since he was elected, Ruto has seemed to rely on housing as a sector that will create significant employment.

On Thursday, the Head of State said 50,000 Kenyans had already gained employment through the housing programme, most of which are in the informal sector, even as he announced plans to construct 400 markets across the country.

The Hustler Fund, too, has been critical to the president, who views it as a viable alternative to offering cheap credit and mobilising savings.

“By the end of last month, the Fund had disbursed Sh36.6 billion, with Sh2.3 billion in savings and 7.5 million repeat borrowers whose overall repayment rate is at an impressive 73 per cent. The top borrower of the fund has so far accessed a total of Sh4.5 million in 816 transactions, while the top voluntary saver is at Sh631,491,” the president said.

On security, Ruto highlighted the government’s success against banditry in the North Rift, even as he noted a push-back from bandits. But perhaps his most significant announcement in the sector was that 80 per cent of new recruits into the country’s security agencies would be selected from National Youth Service graduates. He also issued a warning to corrupt officials, who he said would be dealt with ruthlessly, with finality and expeditiously.

Ruto also spoke of the progress in digitising government services and hailed Kenya’s role abroad. Equally critical, he urged unity among Kenyans. He praised the National Dialogue Committee, co-chaired by former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah, for helping to solve socio-political issues facing Kenyans.

“I salute the courage and patriotism of my fellow leaders who have embraced national dialogue and encourage all of us to keep up the noble work of bringing Kenyans together,” he said.