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State needs to change tack on crises before it is too late

UREPORT
By Harrison Mwirigi Ikunda | September 25th 2015

There is no denying that Kenya is facing a major economic crisis. We are also faced with one of the most difficult industrial actions since Independence.

The point is, the teachers’ strike and the many resultant arguments require us to pinpoint the problem. I have been keenly listening to the teachers’ unions and the Government on this matter and there is substance from both sides of the argument.

Teachers do a difficult job and their remuneration ought to improve. Similarly, the Government’s argument that we have an economic crisis at hand is valid.

Moreover, digging a little on history reveals that we have been courting disaster with our actions and the many errors of omission and commission over time.

The structure of the Government wages had to rear its ugly head at some point. The negative influence of politics over time on matters of public service employment, promotions and remuneration was bound to boomerang at some point. Many times when MPs sought to increase their wages it resulted in public uproar. This is not to mean they did not deserve better pay but we have structural problems in the Kenyan economic management.

If you look at taxes dodged, taxes lost, corruption and the economic disfiguring over time, a crisis was bound to come. It has. The blunders in economic mismanagement over time have meant that the economy has not kept pace with the demands of a growing population.

If you keenly study the Kenyan demographic patterns over the years plus the projections for the future, it means the numbers far outpace our requisite outputs and management of the same. Indeed, unemployment remains and is likely to remain a huge scar in Kenya to the foreseeable future and this needs to alarm policy makers.

We are baking the cake wrongly and inadequate of it. Mind you this is not to mean that Kenya does not have resources. Far from it. If most of the resources Kenya have, had been tapped into properly, managed well and we curtailed our bad habits of corruption and misuse we could be an African tiger by now.

Today, even our exports are increasingly being outpaced by the level of imports. The gap is steadily growing. We still have not found our bearing in stopping or even reducing our propensity to corruption.

Devolution which is a well thought out political and economic paradigm for development is facing numerous challenges which include and are not limited to corruption and bad politics. Faced with tribe-inclined politics, fighting the many ills in Kenya is a tall order. It requires exploits of huge political risks which must be done.

To get over this strike the first thing the Government needs to do is to initiate immediate dialogue. Be open on the steps that will be taken to mollify the teachers over their pay. The implementation may not have to be 100 per cent done immediately, but in a way that guarantees legally it will be paid within a specific time frame and without an option or opportunity to backtrack in future as this is the habit that has brought this mess.

At the same time, we need to be careful. There are many simmering crises which require the Government to put its house in order very fast. Modernise the economy, tap into all resources, collect taxes, manage the public purse well, create an enabling environment for enterprise and kill the demon called corruption. That way a peaceful destiny is assured.

This needs to be done urgently.

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