On the face of it, a government plan to supply poor households with subsidised cooking gas sounds noble and timely.
In a country where 80 per cent of the population still relies on the dirty biomass energy, there can be no better way to apply public policy in dealing with such a challenge -- the intention being to cut smoke-related ailments and deaths.
Any government that cares about the wellbeing of its people would have the intention of keeping healthy as many households as possible. And so, in an effort to reduce use of wood, charcoal and kerosene, poor homes are supposed to acquire 6kg gas cylinders at a 70 per cent discount price of Sh2,000.
But let’s draw lessons from past State subsidy programmes. With so many glaring gaps, the challenge remains matching the good plan with action.
Under the so called Gas Yetu project, the Ministry of Energy plans to buy about one million new cylinders for distribution to the poor across the country using National Oil Corporation of Kenya’s (NOCK) networks. That small number is itself problematic.
If the 46 million Kenyans live in households of five each as usually assumed in government statistics, the ministry must explain to Kenyans how it intends to pick the poor households from a total of 9.2 million families.
The other possible handicap is the fact that NOCK filling stations are not evenly distributed across the country. In other words, NOCK cannot guarantee a reliable link to poor Kenyans.
When it comes to taxpayer financed subsidies, failure to match good intentions with clear action plans have regrettably benefited the rich at the expense of the poor in the past.
Over the years, the poorly distributed stores of the National Cereals and Produce Board, have for instance, allowed provincial administrators, traders and large-scale commercial farmers to easily cart away fertiliser subsidy meant for smallholders.
We have also seen how failure to draw a clear distribution pathway for its maize flour subsidy has ended up benefitting millers and traders as the consumer’s expense.
Before it rolls out the mass procurement of gas cylinders, the ministry must clearly state checks and balances put in place to ensure only deserving households benefit.