Kenya economic outlook 2019

Kenya reviewed its revenue target downwards for this fiscal year by 5 percent to Sh1.61 trillion.

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By Vipul Shah

Kenya has continuously stood out as the place to invest in in sub-Saharan Africa in spite of the challenges that it faces. Investors continue to be bullish about the economy because of Kenya’s importance to the regional economy and its focus on investments around the Big 4 Agenda. As we look forward to the reading of the Kenya Budget 2019/2020, let’s consider the outlook on the Kenyan economy.

The macroeconomic environment

Kenya’s economy was forecast to grow at 5.9 per cent earlier this year. This has been brought down to 5.8 per cent due to the failed long rains. Kenya is an agricultural economy which is mainly rain-fed meaning any changes in rainfall patterns are definitely going to have an impact on the economy.

Kenya still has an interest rate-cap on commercial bank lending rates in place which will dampen its ability to renew the Standby Credit Facility from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) later this year. This is a short-term balance of payment financing facility. Its significance will be felt if the government seeks financing from additional taxes within the year.

The private sector’s contribution to GDP growth is likely to be depressed with commercial banks withholding credit (as a result of the interest rate cap) in favour of less risky government securities. This already has a direct impact on exports, which are not where they need to be, while the import bill keeps rising. This is likely to continue in the near term until the interest rate cap is removed and appropriate measures enacted for banks to be more proactive in avoiding predatory lending.

Kenya’s Big 4 Agenda is still on course with various projects targeted at manufacturing, housing, healthcare and agriculture in various stages of implementation. GDP growth is expected to come from the Big 4 Agenda projects with public infrastructure projects contributing the highest percentage of growth. Budgetary allocation for road construction is expected at Sh87.5 billion (domestically financed) and Sh34.2 billion (externally sought).

The Kenyan Shilling is expected to remain stable going forward with a projected high of Sh101 and a low of Sh104 to the US Dollar. Inflationary pressure will be felt from the rising cost of living, driven by increases in the cost of food and basic commodities – a high of 7.5 percent. Interest rates are expected to rise marginally owing to pressure from the need to meet fiscal targets through domestic borrowing.

The public policy environment

Kenya’s involvement in China’s Belt & Road Initiative has been received with uncertainty over how the country will repay the loans involved in the infrastructure projects it is pursuing. So far, the project has had a positive impact on the Kenyan economy with developments happening in trade, manufacturing and growth in domestic tourism.

Further, public debt will continue to grow as Government seeks to finance the Big 4 Agenda. Sh460.2 billion has been budgeted for the Big 4 Agenda. However, Kenya’s public debt is still within sustainable levels. For Kenya, the Present Value (PV) of debt to GDP ratio as at June 2018 stood at 49 percent, well below the 74 percent global benchmark for lower middle-income countries (LMICs).

The first phase of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project has eased the flow of goods and people between the port city of Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi. Though teething problems are present in regard to the movement of containers, the SGR will prove itself to be the most efficient means for commercial transport with time.

Kenya’s relationship with China is deepening with more private enterprises setting up locally. We continue to see more Chinese construction companies setting up in Kenya with a view to participating in the endless opportunities presented by a focus on infrastructure and real estate. These firms are employing Kenyans at all levels and continue to play a role in bringing down unemployment.

The fact that they are also involved in private infrastructure projects has seen the growth of investment-grade infrastructure projects. Investors want to see consistency in quality and developments that could be sitting in any of the world’s major capitals right here in Kenya. These projects have brought a lot of foreign capital into the country seeking a return in this market.

Taxation

In the past year, we have had several amendments to tax legislation in a bid to offer a push to the Government’s Big 4 Agenda. The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has seen its collection target exponentially increase over the last decade. This has required them to change tack and year on year they keep adopting new and advanced revenue collection measures. Audits have come back in full swing and controls to enforce compliance are at their most technologically advanced level.

Over the years, enforcement has been used as a primary tool for driving the tax compliance agenda home in most of the tax administrations across the world. This probably explains why tax collectors have never been the favourite public officers among the people in their jurisdictions. The KRA has tried to change this perception in the recent past by encouraging facilitation rather than enforcement.

Kenya reviewed its revenue target downwards for this fiscal year by 5 percent to Sh1.61 trillion. This is the second year in a row that Kenya is cutting its collection targets. This, tied together with the fact that the revenue authority has missed its target over the past five years, is indicative that the collection targets have been continuously overambitious.

These reduced collection targets have sparked fears that the country may not be able to curb its reliance on debt. KRA has doubled up on the use of technology in ensuring compliance and this is already bearing fruit. With the introduction of presumptive tax, the collector will be able to net in many taxpayers in the informal sector and also those who’ve been filing nil returns.

It is also anticipated that the long awaited overhaul of the Income Tax Act, which has been in force for over four decades, will come to fruition this year. The new Bill is envisioned to simplify the computation and administration of income tax, hopefully increasing the collections for KRA.

The change in approach from enforcement to facilitation to ensure taxpayers are aware of their obligations, while ensuring compliance is made as easy as possible, will go a long way in securing KRA’s increasing targets.  (

—  Writer is chair and founder, Grant Thornton Kenya

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