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Ruto's enthusiasm not shared by the hustlers who thrust him into power

President William Ruto. [PCS, Standard]

One of the distinctive characteristics of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration was a choreography of national addresses that were obviously out of touch with the lived reality for ordinary folks.

This column analysed almost all the national addresses of the now retired president since 2019. The consequences of this disconnect in a large part endeared hustlers to the Kenya Kwanza clarion call of ‘freedom is coming’. Azimio presidential candidate  Raila Odinga paid the ultimate price in last year’s poll.

It is appalling how President William Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza generals seem keen to walk into the same trap. In his second and 60th Jamhuri Day address to the nation, the president enumerated successes of his 15 months in office that were self-seeking and untrue.

Good examples here were the suggestions that under his watch; Parliament is much more independent, that our politics have shifted from tribe and cronyism to issue-based, the Judiciary is more empowered to fulfil its mandate, that necessary sacrifices and smart choices have been made, and constitutional and independent offices have the freedom to exercise their duties to the people.

However, it is on the economic trajectory and attempts to draw comparatives with the Asian tigers of South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia that the pie crumbles completely.

Who to believe?

Only hours after the president’s speech, Tifa released opinion polls that indicates 84 per cent of those polled thought economic conditions were worse off compared to same time last year. Another at least 87 per cent confirmed to have cut on personal expenditures due to the cost of living. This from a sample of 3009 respondents that represents adult population.

This collaborates several other independent reports, statements and lamentations from the business community on the impacts of the administrations policies to livelihoods and businesses. Just this week, reports are emerging that Procter and Gamble (P&G), one of the strategic multinational consumer goods manufacturer is planning to exit from Nairobi in 2024. The reasons given are high cost of doing business, dollar shortages and sharp decline in sales. Only last month, a little known school in Eastlands closed shop indefinitely for more or less similar reasons.

The question that must bother policy makers is: isn’t one such company skipping town not one too many given the prevailing global business trends? Just last week, the Central Bank governor confirmed the country has lost out on all key economic indicators to our immediate neighbours in the East Africa region. In the same week, the Treasury Cabinet Secretary lamented of his woes in raising cash to fund basic government operations due to the debt burden and revenue shortfalls.

The county government bosses are crying foul on cash releases under the equitable share. Recent reports are emerging that pending bills owed to business by the government stands over Sh750 billion, further complicating working capital to support operations for businesses.  

There are several indicators that contrast the president sentiments directly. For example, while Parliament may have gained budgetary and operational autonomy, does it have ideological independence? How comes both houses have continued to approve budgets and endorse policies that are evidentially negatively impacting households and businesses?

Why haven’t we seen tangible evidence by Parliament to hold to account accounting officers and Cabinet members who preside over wanton waste and plunder of public resources? Do public officials and political elites in the mentioned Asian tigers plunder public coffers with sheer abandon as it is the norm around here?

On the question of taming public spending waste and making sacrifices, the Controller of Budget released a report that the Executive Office of the President and State House blew at least Sh2.2 billion in three months between July and September. The supplementary budget approved last month cut on development, but increased recurrent expenditure with the lion’s share going to the top offices in the land.

Strange anomaly

A review of the presidency expenditure trends from the Budget Review and Outlook Papers over the past 10 years exposes a strange anomaly. In June 2014, the actual expenditure (recurrent and development) was Sh6.8 billion.

This seems to have grown steadily to Sh9.3 billion in June 2018, the first fiscal year of President Uhuru’s second term. By June 2020, this had grown to Sh14.1 billion (representing 51.6 per cent increase in under two years).

It is after this when everything seems to have drastically gone downhill and continues unabated into the KK administration. As at June 2021, the actual expenditure for the presidency jumped to Sh41.3 billion and Sh39.9 billion in June 2022.

This represents a 192.9 and 183 per cent respectively, assuming 2018 was the base year for Jubilee’s second term. What could explain such a drastic increase in the Presidency’s spending? Across all years, recurrent spending for this class of expenditure accounts for about 80 per cent of the budget. Notice this coincides with the political activities around the doomed BBI and the August 2022 general elections.

The only logical conclusion towards this anomaly is that this vote item was either used to siphon money from public coffers for political activities or outrightly plundered. Assuming this was the case, has the Kenya Kwanza faired any better in their one year in office? As at June 2023, the actual spending for the Executive Office of the President was Sh27.5 billion (Sh23.8  and Sh3.7 billion on recurrent and development, respectively).

Question is: does this represent better performance on part of the KK administration?

Far from it. To understand this expenditure, in the KK budgeting, the Executive Office of the president is separated from that of the deputy president. In the Jubilee’s 10 years, both were clustered together as the presidency.

Furthermore, the base year for the KK budgets is the abnormal spending of the presidency around the electioneering years. Comparing to 2018 (assuming this was a normal year with no political activities), this expenditure is 195.7 per cent higher. So who is making sacrifices here to keep the economy afloat? Those entrusted with the instrument of power or the poor masses?

Power precludes reality

Psychologist Prof Ducher Keltner’s research on ‘power paradox’ provides intriguing insights into how achieving power reliably turns people nasty.

In what he terms as the seduction of power, his research shows that it often induces leaders to lose the very skills that enabled them to gain power in the first place. There is credible research evidence that people who feel powerful are more likely to act impulsively to have affairs, drive inconsiderably, to lie, to argue that it is justifiable for them to break rules, and most amusingly more likely to steal sweets from children!

Does this strike a chord with the crop of our political leaders and bureaucratic elites? Isn’t stealing money for relief food, medicine, roads, bursaries, social protection among others meant for the poor not stealing sweets from children?

Mike Myatt, a leadership advisor argues that while optimism is generally a great quality for a chief executive officer to possess, there is a point at which unbridled optimism can disconnect a leader from reality.

Prof Keltner advises leaders to often reflect on how their life was like before getting power, and engage in ordinary activities with ordinary people without being secluded by their sycophants  so as to remain in touch with reality. It is only then that they can remain relevant to their followers and achieve greatness in their impact to society.

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