Kenyan legislators and government officials have in the past few weeks come out with proclamations over Kenya’s high public debt and the risk it poses to the country’s economy.
Last week, President William Ruto said the government was seeking to hold the country’s fiscal deficit at 5.7 per cent in the near term. This is an ambitious promise in the wake of depressed revenue collection and high debt and interest repayments that are currently falling due.
According to the National Treasury, at least Sh1.1 trillion in debt repayments is due to domestic lenders over the next 12 months with up to Sh2 trillion due over the next five years putting more strain on taxpayers.
“The maturity of domestic debt is highest in 2023 majorly due to maturing short-term government securities,” stated the National Treasury in the latest medium debt management strategy. “The repayment structure is relatively smooth except for spikes in 2023, 2024 and 2028 due to maturities of international sovereign bonds,” explains the Treasury.
Currently, members of parliament are seeking to review the country’s debt ceiling from the nominal Sh10 billion to a figure pegged at 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, GDP.
This is because with the country’s overall public debt currently standing at more than Sh9.7 trillion, the Sh10 trillion ceiling provided by the Public Finance Management Act, leaves little room for additional borrowing.
This is not the first time Parliament is faced with this dilemma.
In the last ten years, Parliament has voted three times to increase the debt ceiling, with MPs often overlooking the economic concerns in favour of political expediency.
In November 2014 then National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich tabled Sessional Paper No 14 of 2014 before the floor of the National Assembly looking to double the country’s debt ceiling.
“The National Assembly is requested to consider and approve the increase of total indebtedness for the time being outstanding in respect of the principal amount of money borrowed from $14 billion (Sh1.2 trillion) to $28 billion (Sh2.5 trillion),” explained Rotich in the Sessional Paper in part. The proposal was forwarded by then Garissa Member of Parliament Aden Duale and was supported by 79 members of parliament against 42 who opposed it.
This vote was crucial as it allowed the National Treasury to go to the international markets and float Kenya’s first Sh200 billion Eurobond whose repayment falls due next year.
Among those who supported the motion included Judah ole Metito, Jimmy Angwenyi, and Benjamin Langat, who was then the chair of the Departmental Committee on Finance, Planning and Trade.
“It is very important for the House to note that for us to be able to develop faster than we would otherwise do, borrowing is very critical and important because this House can choose two things; to allow that we borrow and develop the infrastructure that has been highlighted now or we adopt a risk-averse situation which I see my good colleagues from the Minority want to adopt,” said Mr Langat.
Others who supported the motion included then chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee Rev Mutava Musyimi, Jonathan Lelelit Lati, Joseph Kirui Limo, Peter Njoroge Baiya and John Sakwa Bunyasi. Those who opposed the proposal included ODM stalwart John Mbadi, who raised concerns about the lack of public participation in the proposed regulation.
“I feel in the absence of a clear explanation as to whether there was public participation in discussing the Sessional Paper No.14 of 2014, it would be unconstitutional for this Assembly to proceed with this Motion thus denying the Kenyan public an input that is now currently entrenched in our Constitution,” stated Mr Mbadi.
In 2019, MPs voted to raise the debt ceiling to Sh9 trillion, from Sh6 trillion in a proposal that received heated debate at both houses of Parliament.
At the Senate, the move to support the motion was kicked off by Senator Poghisio and seconded by Kipchumba Murkomen. Other Senators who argued in favour of the motion included Ledama Ole Kina, Beth Mugo, James Orengo, Sam Ongeri, Farhiya Ali Haji and Judith Ramaita Pareno.
Those who opposed the motion include Mutula Kilonzo Junior, Aaron Cheruiyot, Moses Wetang’ula, Millicent Omanga, Samson Cherargei, Boniface Kabaka, Petronila Were and Mithika Linturi.
And in June last year, Majority Leader in Parliament Amos Kimunya once again moved a motion to expand the debt ceiling to Sh10 trillion. It was seconded by William Kassait.