Quick government signal on the reality of our economy necessaryMonday September 19 2022
The saying that one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose cannot have been truer for the Kenya Kwanza government this past week. As soon as President William Ruto took over the reins last Tuesday, he had to make his first decision on the economy.
There was no time for honeymoon and planning since the legal period for addressing the costs for fuel was two days after his swearing-in.
During the campaigns, the two economic issues that took centre stage were the high cost of living and the debt burden. The former is the most evident and critical for the ordinary Kenyan.
As part of the campaigns, Kenyans were promised immediate solutions and statements were made suggesting that the price of unga would come down immediately after the election results were declared. And fuel prices, too.
While the decision to reduce the price of a bag of fertiliser by close to half by President Ruto was welcome news, the action on fuel prices through removal of subsidies elicited mixed reactions.
There is a recognition that subsidies were always short-term measures, but the implication of their removal resulted in higher prices for Kenyans. The resulting pain is one that will further strain the budgets of most households.
The refrain from government and the Kenya Kwanza brigade has been, give us time. The reality is that anyone who expected instant results is being dishonest.
Unfortunately, campaigns by their nature lead to such expectations, with those seeking votes making citizens believe that their plight will improve immediately after their candidate wins a seat at any level. The reality is of course different hence the statement about the distinction between the approach to campaigns and governing.
It is important, therefore that the President and his government prepare Kenyans to move from campaign rhetoric to governing reality. The sooner Kenyans get to grips with the obtaining situation and real plans to respond to it the better.
There will be no opportunity to lay the blame on the former administration. It is out of power now. The answer lies in what measures are going to be rolled out to stop the slide into economic disaster and pull the country back to recovery.
Last week I saw a cartoon depicting the disjuncture between what citizens are asked to do and what their leaders are doing, a case of drinking wine while preaching wine. Success will require that all walk the same path.
The removal of subsidies on fuel requires to be accompanied by legislative action to review the taxes levied on the product and the government to implement those recommendations quickly.
More fundamentally though, once the Cabinet is appointed, it should consider a thoroughgoing strategy for economic transformation akin to the 2013 economic recovery strategy.
The one shortcoming over the last ten years has been the limited utilization of planning and strategies to guide decision-making. The consequence has been reduced public buy-in and clarity on the policy directions and rationale.
Public participation was introduced as a principle of governance for a reason. It is to enable citizen consultation and input with a view to improving not just the quality of the interventions being proposed but also the support for the implementation process.
Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that the economic status of project Kenya is dire. It, therefore, cannot be solved through a tweet approach to policymaking.
Government must design and a comprehensive national conversation on our economy to debate the options for the short and medium steps to jump-start the economy. In addition, the political class must join Kenyans in belt-tightening. In the past, they have been part of the problem more than the solution.