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Health biggest winner as Uhuru gives Big 4 plan new lease of life

Standard Gauge Railway
Chinese workers stand on a track of Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) before the Presidential Inspection of the SGR Nairobi-Naivasha Phase 2A project in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 23, 2018. FILE PHOTO | NMG 
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Planned universal access to healthcare has emerged as the biggest winner in the Sh55.23 billion additional development funds for the current financial year as President Uhuru Kenyatta bids to put his legacy projects back on track.

Mr Kenyatta has signalled his resolve to stay on course in delivering on the projects under his ‘Big Four’ Agenda which has suffered torrid early years, in part due to lack of a clear delivery strategy and inadequate direct cash allocation.

A stuttering start to life under the ‘Big Four’ has seen Cabinet changes that saw new appointments to three of the four dockets charged with implementation of the ambitious socio-economic transformation plan, on top of additional cash. The President said the projects under ‘Big Four’ were aimed at “returning the river to its course” in his speech on Jamhuri Day, December 12.

The plan seeks to boost manufacturing, food and nutrition security, affordable housing and universal health coverage as well as enabling infrastructure such as roads, industrial perks, power plants and electricity transmission.

The health docket, charged with ensuring every Kenyan has access to healthcare, has been added Sh17.78 billion, making it the biggest beneficiary with a third of the total additional funds for capital projects.

Latest statistics on revised expenditure estimates by the National Treasury secretary Ukur Yatani, which follows approval by the National Assembly early December, indicate the Health ministry’s share of cash for development has been raised to Sh47.02 billion from the original Sh29.23 billion.

It is a rush against time since in the next two years Mr Kenyatta will leave office at the end of his second five-year term.

SME PARKS

Transport ministry has been handed Sh12.37 billion more for, among other projects, running and maintenance of the 485km Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway (SGR), which was completed in June 2017.

This brings the total budget for the department this financial year ending June to Sh25.93 billion.

It is followed by Infrastructure (primarily for roads and bridges) whose development expenditure has been expanded by Sh5.49 billion to Sh74.66 billion, while the Industrialisation department has been given Sh4.73 billion more towards small- and medium-sized parks, among other projects to improve the operating environment for factories.

The Energy docket has been added Sh3.87 billion for, among other capital projects, subsidised power connection and Lake Turkana Wind Power transmission line (completed in August 2018), while Water and Sanitation has been increased by Sh3.81 billion to Sh33.35 billion.

NO PLAN

Other big winners include Development of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands docket whose purse has been expanded by Sh2.82 billion, Public Works (Sh1.59 billion), ICT (Sh1.56 billion), Basic Education and Early Learning (Sh1.25 billion) and Interior (Sh1.16 billion).

The biggest casualty in the development budgetary review is the Parliamentary Service Commission which lost the Sh3.07 billion it had been allocated in the original budget for development, while the cash for Judiciary has been slashed by Sh224 million.

The National Treasury’s development funds have been cut by Sh736.99 million to Sh28.63 billion, while that for Tourism and Irrigation have been trimmed by Sh919 million and Sh675 million, respectively.

“The Big Four Agenda is a good, but there was no clear plan with timelines in 2019 and agreed initiatives to support it. We hope to see better approach in 2020,” Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) executive director Jacqueline Mugo said in an interview at the end of last year.

Mr Kenyatta is banking on his new point men in key ‘Big Four’ Agenda dockets to significantly deliver on his pledges, largely borrowed from Vision 2030’s Third Medium Term plan, before he exits in August 2022.

Former ICT minister in retired President Mwai Kibaki’s administration, Mutahi Kagwe, is the man Mr Kenyatta has tasked to deliver Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) subject to his approval by the National Assembly. He will be replacing Sicily Kariuki who has been moved to Water and Sanitation.

Ms Betty Maina, formerly a long-serving head of manufacturing sector lobby (Kenya Association of Manufacturers), is the new President’s pick to lead Kenya’s industrial transformation — the Big Four Agenda pillar expected to churn out decent jobs for growing, skilled unemployed youth.

Her predecessor, Peter Munya, has now been tasked to ensure Kenya, which relies on neighbours such as Uganda to supplement its grain supplies, is significantly food-secure in less than three years after he took over the Agriculture docket.

JOBS ENGINE

Mr Kenyatta has kept faith in James Macharia to deliver the pledge of at least 500,000 affordable decent housing units as well as building of key infrastructure such as roads.

The President has made it clear that the full rollout of the cash-intensive Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) will kick off this year following the “successful” pilot phase in Kisumu, Machakos, Nyeri and Isiolo counties.

“Lessons from the pilot affirm that robust primary healthcare system is the right vehicle to secure sustainable Universal Health Coverage,” Mr Kenyatta said on December 12.

“In this regard, we have invested quality time to prepare for the full rollout of this programme by the beginning of 2020, to cover the remaining 43 counties. To this end, I urge county governments and the Ministry of Health to conclude and sign the Intergovernmental Partnership Agreement by the end of January 2020.”

The expansion of manufacturing activities, which were earmarked as the jobs engine in Mr Kenyatta’s legacy agenda, have been bogged down by what players in the sector blame on higher cost of production compared to competitors.

The manufacturing pillar under the “Big Four” socio-economic transformation plan is to create an additional 1,000 small- and medium-sized (SMEs) factories in targeted sub-sectors such as agro-processing, leather, textiles and fish-processing.

The cottage industries are to be given incentives such as cheaper electricity in proposed industrial parks and affordable capital through the proposed merger of State-owned development financiers — Kenya Industrial Estates, Development Bank of Kenya, Industrial Development Bank of Kenya.

They are also to be helped in accessing new exports markets and expanding the existing ones largely in Africa through the Integrated National Exports Development and Promotion Strategy, unveiled in July 2018.

“Policy instruments towards reduction of the cost of production, such as removal of import declaration fee and railway development levy on industrial inputs, and prompt clearance of VAT refunds are key to growing the manufacturing sector. This will ensure increased profitability to be reinvested, and more employment opportunities,” The Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis researchers Vincent Okara and Brian Obiero say in the discussion paper titled Labour Demand in Kenya: Sectoral Analysis.

“Access to dependable and affordable utilities (electricity and water) can reduce the cost of production in the industries. Reduced cost of production can impact positively on investments.”

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