By Ouma Ojango
Six distinct but sequential aspects of President Ruto’s one year in office have influenced the profound backlash his government is currently braving.
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It all began with the formation of the Cabinet. The choices of the President raised eyebrows of many, more so of his supporters, whose expectations were high. From most of the nominees, it was outright that the President was bent on rewarding cronies rather than delivering on his campaign promises to the people.
Meritocracy counted for nothing. From the President’s list of preferred candidates to Parliament for vetting, it was difficult for anyone, however optimistic, to envision fulfilment of Kenya Kwanza’s flamboyant manifesto. This was the first sign that for Kenya Kwanza, the captivating pre-election promises and slogans were just that, promises and slogans. They held nothing. The new government did not harbour the slightest intention of fulfilling them.
The utmost consideration in the nomination for appointment to the Cabinet was one’s tribe, where the two main ‘shareholding’ ethnic groups in the ‘Kenya Kwanza enterprise’ scooped the prize, irrespective of merit and integrity. Then sycophancy in the rank and file of the enterprise came second, and this is how other tribes found a few names of their sons and daughters on the shortlist.
Matching qualifications and skills to the job in the entire lot of the President’s Cabinet is almost impossible. For the first time since President Mwai Kibaki’s first Cabinet in 2002 after the reintroduction of multiparty democracy, we again have seen meritocracy tossed out the window in government.
It has been the same through all government appointments, including principal secretary positions, heads of key parastatals, and foreign missions. Nominations in elective positions took the same pattern in the Kenya Kwanza Government. You look at some of the people that the President’s party nominated to either House of Parliament, and you know that merit, at whatever level, was never a factor.
To expect key policy decisions from this Government’s appointees, especially in the Cabinet, that would respond to tough economic times and cushion Kenyans in the face of prevailing adverse world economic trends is akin to daydreaming.
Then came the insatiable appetite for public funds with the resultant aggressive revenue collection, including removing subsidies, raising taxes, and introducing new levies. The Kenya Kwanza administration has done this and continues to do it, disregarding how it would affect the masses.
On the eight different taxes, for instance, on fuel that had perennially inflated the price of the commodity once it landed at the port of Mombasa, the Kenya Kwanza administration, in total disbelief and an about-turn from the campaign promise, increased its VAT with 8 percent to 16 percent. For instance, the landing cost for diesel is Sh117.63, while kerosene lands at Sh123.78. However, about eight different taxes affect the prices of the commodities before marketers add their margins once they land on Kenyan soil, driving up retail prices above Sh200. These include excise duty, road maintenance levy, petroleum development levy, petroleum regulatory levy, railway development levy, anti-adulteration levy, merchant shipping levy, and import declaration fee.
In the presidential debate preceding the General Election, the Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate, now the President of the Republic of Kenya, had explicitly promised to drop some of the levies on fuel as a direct intervention in the fuel crises. He noted that the ripple effect of the ballooning fuel prices was responsible for the economic woes Kenyans were facing.
The President did not only renege on this promise; he increased VAT on fuel by 8 percent. That variance is responsible for Sh14 on every litre of petrol, diesel, and paraffin, and for the first time in Kenya’s history, all the three major types of fuel in the local market, including petrol, diesel, and kerosene retail at above Sh200. With this, however much the Government subsidizes fertilizer, the cost of food production will remain high. It will also be tricky to tame inflation, and every other government’s effort to tame the escalating cost of living will end in a zero-sum game.
As though that wasn’t enough, Ruto’s Government, again in an unprecedented fashion, raided the pay slips of the Kenyan workers in the formal sector. The Finance Act, which imposed a 1.5 percent housing levy on salaried Kenyans and a similar percentage on their employers, is rocking havoc on workers and the companies and government agencies that have employed them. It is so bad that when, last month, the Government arrogantly opted to collect the levies with the arrears since the Act’s enactment after the Courts gave it a greenlight, employers struggled to put together the 3% for the two months ago as they had not factored it in their annual budgets. Some government agencies delayed their workers’ pay as they struggled with budget reallocations to cater to the new levy. Employers struggled, and one can only imagine what the employees went through.
With the same sense of entitlement, the Kenya Kwanza Government is again scheming how to raid the workers’ pay slips with a new levy. The President has proposed a new health bill that he wants Parliament to pass to levy an additional 2.75% on the workers’ gross salary towards the National Hospital Insurance Fund. The Kenya Kwanza administration and its proponents argue this will rescue the ailing national health insurance.
Thirdly, Ruto’s Government has failed to implement any plan to invest or plough back what he is aggressively collecting from the people to grow the national cake. The ideal scenario would have been for the Government first to develop policies that would cushion the people against the burden of erratic world economic trends for stabilization. They have, however, chosen to rock the boat early in their rule. The Government removed the subsidies on fuel, for instance. At the same time, it increased VAT on fuel to 16 percent. Where is the money going?
Fourthly, the Government is expanding with abandon what it is aggressively squeezing from cornered Kenyans. The kind of money this government is spending on office hospitality, foreign trips, and official vehicles for State officers smirks at the highest levels of insensitivity. Its workforce is also bloated with cronies and tribesmen who hardly add value to public service. This has had an enormous bearing on the general wage bill shouldered, unfortunately, by the struggling Kenyans.
Kenya Kwanza Government is doing all this in blatant disregard of the rule of law. Disturbingly, They have a way around the Judiciary and the justice system. They will appoint an undeserving crony in a critical public office in total disregard of the law, and they will have their way irrespective of whether the civil society, the Law Society of Kenya, or any public-spirited individual goes to court. They will arbitrarily invade your pay slip in total disregard of the tax law, and the courts will let them be.
They will force the ODPP to drop charges against earmarked individuals in ongoing criminal cases as long as they are in their good books. You can see this government’s disdain for the rule of law in how fuel guzzlers with government registration numbers have reverted to flouting traffic rules on our roads to the chagrin of helpless traffic police officers and other motorists. They overlap, bypass roundabouts, and drive against traffic, and there is nothing anyone can do.
Lastly, the arrogance and lack of empathy for the downtrodden by the agents of this government is nauseating. The fuel prices have reached unrivalled scales in the country’s history, and the ripple effect on the economy is mind boggling. However, as a Kenyan, you are not expected by your government to raise as much as an eyebrow. The Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade, and Industry, Moses Kuria, whose core function is to, among others, promote and facilitate domestic and foreign investments, will have no qualms asking you to rig your oil well should you feel dissatisfied with the fuel prices. David Ndii, the President’s economic advisor, will berate you for believing in the President’s campaign promises when you should have been wise enough to know better.
This economy is grinding to a halt. Enterprises are barely surviving. Business people are hanging on a shoestring. It is no longer just the county governments sitting on pending bills they cannot hope to clear; previously well-doing parastatals, including government agencies and private companies, have joined the bandwagon.. Employees with already committed pay slips are at a loss on how they will fund the emerging new levies on their salaries and remain within the 1/3 rule. Prices of household commodities are gradually but steadily rising. Soon, most of them will be beyond the reach of ordinary Kenyans.
Worrying, the government doesn’t seem to care.