Editorials

EDITORIAL: MPs must stop populism and vote with a conscience

BUNGE

Members of Parliament in session. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Will Members of Parliament stop populist drama, quick fixes to weighty matters and a pandering to factional interests that prevents them from getting to the depth of issues and make decisions only in the interest of those they represent?

This is the question that is occupying the minds of the majority of Kenyans as Parliament convenes this afternoon to vote on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s proposed austerity and tax measures meant to get the country out of a difficult financial situation.

It must be said that underlying this whole situation has been the Executive’s refusal to live within the country’s means and Parliament’s utter failure to play its oversight role that has allowed profligacy to become part of the national budgeting framework. For it is this sloppiness and failure in oversight that has seen MPs pass successive annual national budgets with huge financing deficits, whose result has been heavy borrowing – and ultimately heavy indebtedness.

In fact, the pricing of government borrowing (the base rate) forms the largest segment of total cost of credit in Kenya – and that comes out of the huge budget deficits approved by MPs. That our parliamentarians do not see this as their problem and still have the audacity to go round and enact legislation that caps interest rates is grossly insincere.

Even more unsettling is the current shedding of crocodile tears in Parliament over the austerity measures President Kenyatta has proposed to deal with the current dire situation.

The refusal to quit the arena of parochial personal interests that is being exhibited in insistence that avenues of wastage such as the CDF is not part of the austerity is disappointing.

When the deal is done, MPs will wake up to the fact that their narrow and personal interest-driven view of the situation will have let them pass a budget that is extremely troubling to the people they represent. In lieu of making the required budget cuts, parliamentarians will discover that they basically mortgaged ordinary citizens, who will live with heavy taxes on basic services and goods such as money transactions, airtime and kerosene.

Having – by commission or omission – allowed the Jubilee administration to live beyond its means, MPs are now faced with a catch- 22 situation in which they either must take the bitter pill of austerity and big budget cuts or accept the painful tax measures.

That is the only way the country can meet its huge debt obligations – standing at Sh870 billion this year – and remain with some resources to keep the government afloat.

Besides, the Executive, which is the originator of this crisis, must style up and re-evaluate the large expenditure it has in the pipeline, including the Big Four projects.

While we have no doubts in our minds that the projects, especially the housing bit, have the potential of kick-starting the economy through the multiplier effect, our current situation demands that we must reassess our needs and work for right timing.

For now, Kenya needs to resist the temptation to go for grand projects such as the proposed building of the Nairobi-Mombasa expressway being pushed by the Americans as well as put Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project in the freezer.

Besides clamping down on deficit-inducing projects, serious checks on rampant wastage must be put in place. This is particularly urgent in Chinese-funded projects that are now all the rave—where public officials cut deals that grossly inflate costs and leave the taxpayers with a huge burden.

And finally the fight against corruption must proceed in earnest to stop wanton theft of the little resources available.

For there is no better way to ease the tax pain than stopping wastage.