The Standard Blog

Is Uhuru’s budget PNU’s admission of national impunity?

Published on 21/06/2009

By Dan Okoth

The debate on devolution is back with a bang, this time from an unexpected source – Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. If unexpected, it was so subtle that some Kenyans, including some of Uhuru’s harshest critics, missed it.

Suddenly, the dazzling beauty of devolution has smitten suitors who, for the love of the Executive, previously dismissed her as too radical.

The loudest signal of devolution in Uhuru’s Budget came in the form of a deliberate larger allocation for Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and infrastructure projects with a clear regional element.

CDF got an allocation of Sh12 billion, up from about Sh10 billion the previous year. In addition to this, Uhuru allocated about Sh5 billion for infrastructure development (road maintenance, education, health institutions among others). Yet another Sh1.8 billion was allocated for fresh-produce markets in constituencies.

In all, funds for the constituencies comes to about Sh18 billion, hence the tag “fiscal stimulus package”. No surprise then some commentators has termed it a ‘socialist’ package. A cynical colleague called it “the transfer of theft from the national stage to the village”.

According to the minister, “We plan to implement a fiscal stimulus package that focuses on sectors that will generate maximum benefit. Mr Speaker, to address the existing imbalances in regional development, which have been a real source of social discontent”.

For the first time, a minister of Finance has, before Parliament, admitted social discontent was engineered through imbalances in development. But that aside, it is also the first time a minister of Uhuru’s standing has brought out a viable solution.

Uhuru’s admission was not strange. The country’s three administrations of presidents (Jomo Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki) knew that there were huge disparities in regional development. Indeed, it can be argued the presidents engineered the imbalances and abused them to maximum political benefit.

For years, calls to scrap the Provincial Administration, stop rampant tribalism in the Civil Service, skewed allocation of resources, and debate on devolution, have been on Kenyans’ lips. Citizens have been clear they wanted power devolved to the grassroots.

Indeed, the clamour for devolution informed the call for constitutional review. For this cause, thousands of Kenyans have been clobbered, tortured or lost their lives in the hands of security and intelligence agents.

For years, resistance to devolution, fiscal or otherwise, came from the Kibaki administration — of which Uhuru is a new advocate (in some circles, even a potential heir). Politicians aligned to Kibaki were ardent campaigners against the Bomas Draft constitution whose main highlight was devolution.

Among them were former Justice ministers Kiraitu Murungi and Martha Karua, some of the architects of the watered down Wako draft that was defeated at the November 2005 Referendum.

Ironically, Uhuru was among those who vigorously resisted the Wako draft. Then, as the Leader of the Official Opposition, he joined the referendum victors in Nairobi to herald the birth of the Orange Democratic Movement.

That Uhuru has finally embraced devolution talk raises many questions. Why would a minister from the side of the Coalition Government known for status quo politics suddenly embrace such a radical change?

Is it a sign the Kibaki administration is admitting guilt in perpetuating national impunity? Is it seeking a radical remedy? To what extent does Uhuru’s Budget speech signal change in his Party of National Unity (PNU), and in the nation’s pursuit for change?

Now that PNU is attempting to own what its Orange Democratic Movement rivals have stood for all along, is it time to abandon constitutional review or to push harder for it? Is it a signal that the two rival parties have closed ranks? Should Kenyans accept Uhuru’s fiscal stimulus package with open arms or suspicion?

While the radical change has received a thumbs-up from MPs and the grassroots, Kenyans must not forget fiscal devolution is not enough. National structures must also change accordingly.

For example, the push for reduced presidential powers must accompany the fiscal stimulus package for real change. If the law allows an imperial presidency to overrule a ministerial decision, what is a CDF committee before him?

In the next few months, debate on the Budget will shift from Uhuru’s speech to allocations for line ministries. Kenyans will be looking to see if the ministries take the Finance minister’s devolution cue. Will a Roads minister, for example, support the decision by constituents to tarmac the road to the nearest market?

If no accompanying changes are made at national level to support Uhuru’s “total makeover”, his skin-deep fiscal devolution will risk being washed out in the rain and drowned by the floods of myopic arrogance, selfish politics and impunity.


COMMENTS

1. On Monday July 6, 2009, 19:00 PM , AbbTops, Qatar wrote:

  A leopard never changes its spots!! Uhuru with his fuzzy maths is hard at work playing an ulterior agenda….wonder how much of the CDF will end up lining the pockets of his fellow PNU colleagues!!

 

2. On Tuesday June 30, 2009, 10:30 AM , christopher eregae, Kenya wrote:

  Perhaps this is an indicator that PNU has embraced change that Kenyans have been longing as far as resource allocation is concerned. The pressure that the lobby groups and ODM wing of politicians have revolutionized PNU hardliners and this could what has baptized the Hon Minister for finance which is actually a good move for this country.

 

3. On Wednesday June 24, 2009, 12:22 PM , ODUOR ABWAO GOMBAS(Azik), India wrote:

  Yes could be the son of the first president has just realised that his father and other r leaders who have ruled kenya like a personal property went off the track.I never expected much change from Uhuru Kenyatta and if the budget he presented is his baptism,then lets wait and see.I would advise him to visit Rusinga Island where TOM MBOYA,the great son of kenya is lying peacefully and and cry too.

 

4. On Monday June 22, 2009, 8:44 AM , James Maina, United States wrote:

  I think Uhuru is making honest attempts to bridge the development gap throughout the country. We should always support positive efforts regardless of which party is showing a change of heart. I hope Uhuru is serious in his latest quest toward fair distribution of resources through CDF allocations. This money will cater to the needs of common Mwananchi. Fuzzy maths in his budget still worries me.

 


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