Ideas & Debate

Uhuru must navigate the good, bad and ugly this time around

President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG
President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As President Uhuru Kenyatta mulls the form and composition of his new administration, he will remain alive to the Nasa opposition’s challenge to his legitimacy and calls for wide-ranging reform, even as he begins to view our national divide as real, not imagined.

In a fast changing and increasingly complex world, there is more that could interest the President.

On, say, Cabinet choices, he might look at the United Arab Emirates, which has, on one hand, the world’s only Minister for Artificial Intelligence (in light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution) and, on the other a Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing, as well as another Minister of State for Tolerance.

Yes, interesting solutions for challenging times. Of course, this week’s reported appointment by Nigeria’s Imo State Governor of a Minister (Commissioner) responsible for Happiness and Couples’ Fulfillment (who previously worked as Special Advisor on Domestic Affairs, in charge of Xmas celebrations) seems extreme, though global interest in “happiness institutions” is clearly on the rise.

In a roundabout way, President must apply similar logic in shaping his next administration. First, surface the issues.

Second, find ways to resolve them programmatically or institutionally. Then, hire person(s) best suited to delivering the desired results. That’s the logical order so what do we know so far?

To begin addressing long-standing issues around inequality and exclusion, it is commendable that the Jubilee administration has prioritised a four part agenda around food security, universal health care, affordable housing and manufacturing-led job creation. Let’s call this the “good” part of a “good, bad and ugly” agenda for the administration.

One assumes that Jubilee is confident that ongoing education reform, as well as water and irrigation sector investment is well in hand.

But Kenya will need fresh thinking on the financing of health care and housing, while focusing on food security should not divert attention from agricultural value-addition.

Mostly, this four part agenda speaks — at least on paper — to a new found commitment by national government to work more closely with county governments, particularly since agriculture, health and housing are devolved functions, while job creation is arguably a key devolution expectation.

The “bad and ugly” parts of the agenda are less evident. More than previous administrations, Jubilee seems to have been “captured” by a lethal cocktail of four “Is” — interests, impunity, indecision and inaction —where interests drive impunity and the two drive leadership indecision and inaction.

A big part of the “bad” agenda must realign national economic strategy to better balance investment-driven growth with jobs (human capital) and productivity-led growth.

Answers are needed on the sustainability of Kenya’s recent mega-investment binge, and the extent to which it is hostage to foreign and local interests.

But we also need to look at the demand-side of economic strategy. Investment is fine if growth markets exist; it cannot simply be “build and they will come”. So our industrialisation (and trade) strategy only makes sense if it supports an export market orientation, then domestic market potential.

This strategy will of necessity pit our powerful, formal private sector, which abhors competition, against our less empowered, perfect competition-like informal sector.

Jubilee’s “bad” agenda must tackle the dominant interests that frustrate competition in key sectors of the economy. Global competitiveness and domestic competition are two sides of the same modern economy.

Further, a demand-led economic strategy will allow the administration to address the debt and deficit-inspired fiscal cliff that followed mega-investment.

The “ugly” agenda relates to the political pillar of Vision 2030. First, Governance, Justice, Law and Order sector (GJLOS) reform. A first GJLOS reform phase ran from 2004 under Narc - with success and challenges – and terminated in 2009. Its parent - the Ministry of Justice – closed down in 2013.

Yet, security and policing reform remains a major challenge. Chain of justice reform is only happening in the Judiciary. Transparency and accountability reform is hampered by perennial threats to independent institutions. Jubilee’s solution to date has focused on 3 Cs — more cash, more cars and more capacity. This could be the moment to restore more systematic GJLOS reform as a part of a decisive Jubilee agenda.

Less obvious is “PPBR” coherence; that is the logical links between plans, programmes, budgets and results.

Notwithstanding the “good” in Jubilee’s priority agenda, we are currently planning around 20 economic sectors (half of which account for 90 per cent of GDP) through a framework driven by a forthcoming 2018-2022 MTP built on 26 sectors that must be financed through an MTEF centred on 10 main sectors.

We will then track results through a NIMES based on the 26 sectors, budgets through 10 MTEF sectors and “achievements” through a “delivery portal” that has no link to either of the former.

Simply, Treasury and Planning are not talking to each other, or the so-called Presidential Delivery Unit. We also have a National Economic and Social Council and a Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat.

What happened to the Office of Management and Budget touted to resolve this alphabet soup? Indecision.

So, it is a “good, bad and ugly” agenda in which the “good” doesn’t work if the “bad and ugly” is ignored. Food for thought.