Economy

Human rights body sues Treasury and AG over runaway public borrowing

treasury

The National Treasury building in Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and national coordinator of the Institute for Social Accountability (TISA) Wanjiru Gikonyo have filed a petition at the High Court seeking to compel the National Treasury and Attorney General Kihara Kariuki to disclose information on Kenya’s debt treaties, agreements, and contracts signed with other states and lending institutions.

In a statement released to the press on Thursday, the commission said it had sought to obtain the information from Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani through a letter dated February 7, but the request was ignored.

The petitioners have decried the government’s tendency of borrowing expensive loans over the past decade.  

KHRC said that Mr Yatani’s refusal to make public all information relating to Kenya’s sovereign bonds and other loans is unconstitutional, accusing the Executive of ‘operating in an opaque and shadowy manner’.

The petitioners say that the litigation has been triggered by Treasury’s continued borrowing in the government’s name without being accountable to the public and disclosing documents.

The commission says in the petition that unchecked borrowing presents serious economic challenges for Kenyans amid growing public outcry over the increasing cost of living.

The Jubilee administration has increased borrowing since coming to power to build infrastructure, leading to a squeeze on its finances as the loans fall due amid criticism over the resulting debt burden.

Public debt stood at Sh8.2 trillion in December from Sh1.89 trillion in 2013. The loans — which include billions of dollars from China — are pushing against the nation’s debt ceiling.

In April, Treasury chiefs projected that Kenya will spend Sh1.36 trillion annually in the year starting July for debt repayment, up from Sh1.15 trillion in the current fiscal period. This means that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor will require an average of Sh3.74 billion daily to repay the country’s mounting debts.

The two front-runners in the race to succeed Mr Kenyatta in the August election — Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition Leader Raila Odinga — have both raised concerns over the mounting debt.

Some of the large external repayments in the next financial year include Sh103.75 billion to China’s Exim Bank which, among other projects, funded the standard gauge railway, and Sh61.88 billion to a syndicated loan arranged by Comesa-owned Trade and Development Bank.

The growing debt burden reflects fast-maturing commercial and semi-concessional loans that the Jubilee administration contracted in its early years in office to build a modern railway, new road highways, bridges and power plants.