Affordable housing is good, but pocket-friendly education is better

A boda boda rider ferries a parent along the Kisii-Keroka highway after last-minute shopping ahead of school reopening. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Last week, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua indirectly acknowledged on X that Kenya Kwanza had lost the social media, opinion polls and conventional media wars to its nemesis Azimio.

His consolation was that Kenya Kwanza is unassailable ‘on the ground’, hence, that is where it is waiting for Azimio. While we cannot fault his belief, what eluded him is that the contests he referred to originate from the ‘ground’, but that is a topic for another day.

Three days after schools opened for the first term in 2024, a majority of secondary school students were sent back home for school fees balances. The head teachers and principals’ refrain is; zero balance. It is easy to condemn school principals, but with hindsight, one realises most of them are caught between a rock and a hard place. 

Education in Kenya is free on paper, but on the ground, the opposite obtains. The government has consistently played ‘piki piki ponki, paka mielo disco’ (hide and seek) with capitation funds. This phrase was popularised by Lawyer Otieno Willis who represented Azimio in its petition challenging William Ruto’s election as president in 2022.

Administrative lacunas in the Ministry of Education and a propensity for greed along the chain-link in the education sector have allowed some school heads, both primary and secondary, to milk parents through levies and charges for which no receipts are issued.

Worse, the government has abdicated its responsibility to stock libraries and laboratories as well as provide adequate infrastructure and enough teachers to parents.  That is gross dereliction of duty for which the government must be called out. It is defeatist to complain about lack of funds in the Treasury when the magnitude of corruption and money lost through misappropriation in one year is stupefying. 

Scenes during the opening and closing of schools forcefully remind us of the chaotic nature of our public transport sector. Add to that the recent termination of Edu-Afya medical scheme for students, lack of drugs in public hospitals and the theft of Sh20 billion from NHIF even as President Ruto touts Universal Health Care and one realises that indeed, the government is moving in the wrong direction.

That wrong direction is defined by morbid fascination with the affordable housing project being forced down the throats of Kenyan workers who may have no need for those houses. The Constitution mandates the government to provide housing, but it does not assign the financing aspect to Kenyan workers alone.

The pay-as-you-earn taxes, inclusive of taxes collected from businesspeople and mama mboga, must be put to good use. Presidents Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta built affordable houses without forcing workers to contribute extra money.

Were the government to drop the affordable housing project for affordable education, an efficient government-run public transport sector, build enough hospitals and stock them well, it would have done what the citizens truly demand of it. The point is, the government’s priorities are all wrong and making it lose sight of what is important to the public. The governments delivery of services and obssesion with taxing each and everything, so far negates the flowery promises made on campaign trails in 2022 but which, today, remain a mirage.

Kenya Kwanza shouldn't perpetrate Ronald Reagan's view of the economy when he said, "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it".

A government for the people by the people simply means that elected officials should do the bidding of the voters, not what they think the voters want. After all, any power they possess has been entrusted to them for a set period of time, after which they must seek re-election to continue enjoying that power.

While, as Gachagua said, Kenya Kwanza will be waiting for Azimio on the ground, government mandarins should remember that time spent waiting is time wasted. A government that moves in the wrong direction yet is averse to being reminded of the fact will encounter insurmountable difficulties on the way to fulfilling its goals.