It’s the economy, stupid. This famous phrase is attributed to a campaign strategist who was engaged by former US President Bill Clinton during the build up to the 1992 presidential elections.
The point in the phrase is that a president’s most important job is the economy. Which is why it does not surprise that as President Uhuru Kenyatta approaches the end of his final term, he has started to talk more and more about the economy.
As he announced the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the President spelt out the areas his administration intends to focus on over the next few months. The economy dominated. The short-term measures to be implemented in the next few months included clearing pending bills, increasing access of affordable credit to SME, increasing the money in the pocket of the farmer, releasing cash to New Kenya Co-operative Creameries to buy excess milk, and releasing of cash to pay rice farmers. The list was long.
I thought it worthwhile to suggest to Mr Kenyatta what he should do while focusing on economic issues and as he approaches the end of his final term .
First is the issue of special economic zones. As one of your legacies in the economic field, make sure that we have at least one functional special economic zone.
We have been talking about Dongo Kundu since the Japanese crafted for us that industrial policy document known as Mapkids more than ten years ago.
The special economic zones model and the whole concept of industrial clusters is what anchored industrial growth in places like Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and South Korea.
Several years ago, we started experimenting with the idea of a special economic zone in the ICT sector in the name of Konza. It is yet to take off.
The second area where Mr Kenyatta’s administration could make a lasting legacy is the Kenya Oil Project.
Granted, we will start earning revenues long after he has left the scene. Where Mr Kenyatta could make a lasting impact is if he made sure that we have established a sovereign wealth fund to receive these oil revenues and to manage oil wealth for the benefit of the current and future generations.
I don’t think that we are managing the Kenya Oil Project with the competence and transparency that is needed.
I don’t see us preparing and putting the building blocks that will allow us to manage oil wealth better than Angola, Mozambique and Nigeria.
The third area of focus should be parastatal reforms.
What the President needs to do here is to go back where he started in 2013 when he established the blue ribbon task force on parastatal reforms.
If we had established a Government Investment Corporation (GIC) as had been proposed by the presidential task force, we would not be fumbling with what to do with Kenya Airways.
We would not be having the sterile debate about whether to merge the airline with the Kenya Airports Authority or whether to ‘nationalise’ the national carrier.
The institutional framework for governing commercial State corporations is in a total mess.
If we had established a GIC as had been proposed, the insolvent Kenya Power would not be hanging on our necks like a millstone
It is a shame indeed that despite the fact that a critically strategic corporation as Kenya Power is in financial dire straits, nobody seems to see it as an urgent issue.
When Air Malawi fell into trouble, it is the entity, Khazanah, the equivalent of the GIC which the presidential task force had proposed, that came in to pilot the company back to profitability.
During the 1997 Asian crisis when the stock market swooned, it was the entity, Tamasek- the equivalent of the GIC which the presidential task force had proposed, that saved the situation.
Today, every leading emerging nation has an institution that it calls upon whenever it has a challenge. Mr Kenyatta needs to go back to where he started and implement the good ideas that were proposed by the presidential task force on parastatal reforms.