Economy & Politics

Laptops budget on the line in bid to avert strike

  Excited Standard  One pupils at Shauri Moyo Primary School in Kisumu crowd around a laptop on Tuesday. The schools laptops project is among those that have had their budgets cut by the Treasury to raise money for teachers’ salaries. Photo/TOM OTIENO
Excited Standard One pupils at Shauri Moyo Primary School in Kisumu crowd around a laptop on Tuesday. The schools laptops project is among those that have had their budgets cut by the Treasury to raise money for teachers’ salaries. Photo/TOM OTIENO 

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s flagship One Laptop for Every Class One pupil project was on Tuesday among the raft of budget lines on the chopping board as the Treasury sought money to employ more teachers and pay them enhanced allowances to avert a looming national strike.

Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich told Parliament’s Budget Committee that some Sh20.7 billion was urgently needed to meet the teachers’ demands and avoid a paralysis of the education system.   

“We have met the Teachers Service Commission and representatives of teachers’ unions, including that of the universities and the amount required to meet their needs is Sh20.7 billion,” Mr Rotich said adding that a tight budgetary framework had forced him to seek Parliament’s authority to reorganise the Budget over and above what the committee proposed and the House adopted for the next fiscal year.

Mr Rotich said Sh11.5 billion was needed to cater for enhanced teachers’ allowances, Sh1.4 billion for leave allowance, Sh3.6 billion for recruitment of 10,000 teachers annually and Sh3.5 billion for promotions. An additional Sh1.8 billion is needed to pay the lecturers’ allowances.

The Budget and Appropriation Committee allowed the Treasury to take back some Sh4 billion it had allocated to the Tourism and Industrialisation departments and asked the Education Committee to explore ways of reducing the Sh17 billion laptops budget to save additional funds for teachers.

Committee chairman Mutava Musyimi said that although the laptops project was key to the Uhuru administration, pressing teachers’ needs required a rethink of the budgetary allocations.

Teachers have issued a strike warning to press for implementation of the collective bargaining agreement signed with the government in 1997 forcing the Treasury to rush to Parliament for permission to cut and reallocate spending in a number of departments to raise money that is needed to meet their demands.

“Teachers have made it extremely clear that they will not support the President’s noble [project] and may even frustrate it should they be forced to go on strike to press for better working conditions,” Mr Musyimi said.

“I direct the Education Committee to come up with tangible proposals to help implement the project even if in a phased manner,” Mr Musyimi said.

Benjamin Lang’at, who chairs the Finance Trade and Planning Committee, supported by members Richard Onyonka and James Nyikal, said implementation of the laptops project was not a priority given the many infrastructural challenges facing many schools and proposed that the budget be reduced to Sh5 billion annually.

That would release Sh12 billion to cater to teachers’ demands and avert a looming strike. The Education committee has until Thursday to submit its report on the laptops budget.

“If this project is not well thought out and implemented, it may reflect badly on the President. If well taken care of it will build him and I therefore suggest that we reduce the budget say to Sh5 billion for a start,” said Mr Lang’at.

Mr Rotich secured the committee’s approval to take Sh2 billion each from the Industrialisation and Tourism departments to meet teacher’s demands for additional staff, increased allowances and promotions.

The minister also had the MPs surrender Sh5.4 billion meant for the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) in the current financial year to finance the deficit in the Free Day Secondary School programme.

The Treasury also got an additional Sh700 million that had been earmarked in the Supplementary Budget II for the purchase of an office building for retired President Mwai Kibaki.

The committee made the savings when it rejected the Cabinet office’s proposal to buy the property at Sh485 million and spend additional Sh215 million to renovate it.

“We have agreed to open up the budgets for Industrialisation and Tourism ministries that were allocated additional Sh2.75 billion each from the savings we made on the Treasury’s 2013/14 budget. This makes Sh4 billion available to the Ministry of Education to cater to teachers’ needs leaving an extra Sh750 million for each to the two dockets,” Mr Musyimi said.

Mr Rotich, however, told the MPs that the issue of the allowances payable to teachers had been shelved to await directions from Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).

“The issue of harmonisation of allowances with those of other public servants as well as leave allowance has been left to SRC to offer direction. This is because it will trigger reaction from other sectors, including nurses and doctors. We want a structured way of handling it from SRC to avert a repeat of the pay or allowances crisis witnessed last October,” he said.

The committee had invited Mr Rotich and Treasury officials to explain the rationale for additional funding through the Supplementary Budget II and the preparation of the Finance Bill 2013/14.

emutai@ke.nationmedia.com