Ideas & Debate

Present Handshake, Big Four policies for thorough review

Recent shenanigans at IEBC provide an entry point for dialogue. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Recent shenanigans at IEBC provide an entry point for dialogue. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Even as we jump-start the economy, year 2022 dominates national debate. Yet, we just issued a $2 billion Eurobond, and then promised the IMF a tough reform programme around fiscal consolidation and interest rate controls.

Subsequently the World Bank tells us in its March 2018 Economic Update that the recent growth contribution of private investment has been negative, private consumption has fallen and debt-driven public investment has been our most important “growth driver”.

The update makes two cheekily related “twin deficit” points. One, 2013–2017 GDP growth would have been worse if net exports (exports less imports, which is typically negative for an import economy like Kenya’s) were higher.

This “double negative” was the result not of higher exports, but lower imports reflecting “weaker private demand”. Two, this growth would have been higher if private investment had remained at 2008-2012 levels; basically without our recent deficit-driven public spending spree.

Others have commented more deeply on this state of play. Yet, beyond past “headwinds”, is there a “tsunami” on the horizon if these are trends, not exceptions? Is this a “breaking bad” moment for Kenya?

Treat that all as context, and turn to two other matters of recent public interest (excluding the university lecturers’ strike).

First the “Big Four” plan, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy promise to deliver to Kenyans through manufacturing for jobs, food security, universal health care and affordable housing.

Second the nine-point “handshake” between Mr Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga — a joint commitment to fix ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of a national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, divisive elections, safety and security, corruption, shared prosperity and rights and responsibilities.

Here are some easy questions. Where we are on these two “initiatives”? Big Four; because government still hasn’t launched its 3rd Medium-Term Plan (2018-2022) under Vision 2030. Is there trouble in the National Treasury building, where finance and planning are now merged ?

“Handshake; owing to the “silence of the brothers”, and the turmoil it’s causing on the political scene. Are those dark whispers we hear about elite political pacts for the future (recall 1997 KANU-NDP, 2002 NARC, 2005 Government of National Unity and 2008 Grand Coalition)?
These are the wrong questions. Better to consider how dialogue could progress constructively.

Let’s start with next week’s Devolution Conference in Kakamega which both leaders will address. The conference agenda is crafted around the Big Four. It offers an opportunity to debate big parts of the handshake. Directly? Devolution, shared prosperity, rights and responsibilities. Indirectly? Basically the rest of that nine-point agenda, bar “divisive elections”.

Take the right to food. A food security dialogue could pick up on some of the smart points that the World Bank’s update makes. Like the argument that public money is best spent on public goods, like irrigation, research or extension services, not private goods, like fertiliser or seed, with higher returns all round.

Or the idea that the government’s entire approach to subsidies — fertiliser, seed, producer prices — is biased towards larger farmers, unfairly taxes consumers (especially the poor) and harms food security through distorted incentives towards growing crops where others are more appropriate (think maize).

On the right to health, think about a universal health care debate on lifestyles and living conditions (think communicable and non-communicable diseases), the overall healthcare cost and supply chain; then insurance options last, not first.

In other words, strip each “policy element” of the Big Four down to its constituent parts (cost, supply or value chain) then review and assess what works, and what doesn’t.

Back to basics; not the hustler-led incrementalism that could infest and infect this agenda with tenderpreneurs.

What about divisive elections? Recent shenanigans at IEBC provide an entry point for dialogue. Recall that IEBC earlier this year promised a participatory evaluation of its 2017 performance by May 2018.

So let’s hold this separate evaluative dialogue using a “back to basics” approach.

Elections are about four steps for ordinary people – identification (as citizens), registration (as voters), voting (after presenting identification) and tracking results (that are believable). The electoral agency delivers three outputs along these steps.

Voters register; candidates list; and best management practice that brings voters and candidates together through a credible process that delivers a just outcome.

Before rushing to new appointments, what is the agency we want? Supervisory and/or administrative commission? Temporary or permanent electoral commission? Independent or party-representative commissioners? Independent agency, specialised judicial body or government ministry? Outsourced elections management?

Examples abound worldwide for different permutations of these broad options.

Back to basics? We call this root and branch reform (transformation). Not the “cookie cutter” incremental reform that might happen if Big Four and the handshake become business as usual.