We have tended to emphasise large projects for growth stimulus while ignoring that reforms can effectively deliver notable socio-economic development.
With Kenya’s high level of public debt, our future capacity to finance large capital projects will mostly be limited.
Hence the wisdom of focusing on a number of win-win reforms which can significantly change Kenyans’ lives while upping the development narrative. I will narrate a few fairly low cost reforms that I believe delivered notable socio-economic changes.
Moody Awori’s autobiography reminds us of the impactful prisons reforms which he implemented when he was the vice- president and minister for Home Affairs.
With minimum budgetary allocations Uncle Moody, as he was popularly known, substantially modernised and humanised the penal system. He focused on changing official and public mindsets while reforming administrative systems.
On the other hand, a law on interest rate capping introduced by MP Jude Jomo last year triggered an irreversible process of banking reforms. To accommodate the law, the banks are gradually innovating to efficiently add value to their shareholders and customers.
On their part, the borrowers will work hard on improving their creditworthiness. A logical equilibrium will finally prevail and the economy will no doubt be efficiently and affordably banked.
Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has significantly transformed the way education is delivered. He has focused on improving governance systems, accountability and education quality. All this has been accomplished with little incremental budgetary allocations.
The other salient reforms are Huduma Centres where guaranteed speed and transparency in public service delivery has made the programme a hallmark of Jubilee government achievements.
The common denominator among all the above reforms is that they are high on socio-economic impact at relatively low budgetary costs. These reforms succeeded because their proponents and implementers received political and official support from the highest office in the country.
This was essential to ensure protection from potential sabotage and interference mainly from vested interests. We are heading for elections and this is the time when action plans and manifestos for the next five years are crafted and promised.
Instead of promising expensive projects that we know will be difficult to fund, the office seekers should research more on potential high-impact reforms that can equally drive the socio-economic development agenda. I will here discuss two areas worthy focusing on.
In Kenya, agricultural reforms would certainly have the widest socio-economic capture. It is an area that is much debated and researched but mostly falls short on focus, follow-through and funding.
Reforms are required to empower the usually enterprising and creative Kenyan farmer with effective and sustainable marketing systems backed by robust economies of scale.
Existing crop economies
This should be a high visibility national crusade to expand and modernise existing crop economies; revive or introduce new high value crops; promote and diversify local consumption; establish efficient supply chains; while developing value adding export opportunities.
Key stakeholders here are farmers, processors, distributors and exporters. Agricultural reforms are a win-win socio-economic proposition that ultimately delivers food security, jobs and increased export dollars.
The other high value reforms fall under the flagship banner of Build, Grow and Buy Kenyan to boost local production so as to significantly reduce imports while growing local jobs.
Economic growth though increased production (industrial, mining, and agriculture) will be on the back of strong local and export demands.
Local production has not received strong enough political messages to drive a mindset shift in government and the public to effectively drive significant changes to increase production and jobs.
Reforms in this area would require coherent and harmonised inter-ministerial coordination supported by high level national policies and support systems.
I believe that if these two key reforms are diligently implemented they can deliver many jobs, and a high impact GDP that benefits many Kenyans.
Kenya has over the years and through errors of commission or omission allowed many economic governance and support systems to crumble.
Only targeted reforms will set this right to permit the development train to pick meaningful momentum.
Areas that are screaming for urgent reforms include land registry, public finance accountability, and the aborted parastatal reforms.