Kenya: PS Hinga Waxes Lyrical but Mass Housing Drive Proves Hard Nut to Spin

A newly-built house. Kenyans have opposed the plan by the government to deduct part of workers’ salaries to fund its housing project.
opinion

Charles Hinga Mwaura is fond of talking, but he rarely communicates.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta named him as the Principal Secretary for Housing, Urban Development and Public works in February 2018, few had ever heard of him.

Mr Hinga was plucked from South Africa where he has been advising and helping public bodies achieve urban development, implement landmark mega-infrastructure projects mainly off-balance sheet and public-private partnerships.

DELAYS

He came to Kenya not only to transform a department where delays in completion of projects are an excuse to seek increased budgets and, therefore, siphon public money but also an area that will inform the legacy of President Kenyatta.

Mr Hinga was to oversee the realisation of the affordable housing promise under the Big Four agenda.

When the government introduced the House Tax (remember the Hut tax by colonialists, anyway) Mr Hinga was deployed to explain to Kenyans just how the new tax would benefit him.

And with that, the man chose to shoot from both sides of his mouth. He was consistent in being inconsistent.

Nothing was too complex for him. With a real gift in verbosity and propensity for vocabulary, Mr Hinga, who has been on TV stations recently, has had a display of high-sounding phraseology about the Housing Tax and the affordable homes agenda, all promulgated with an air of profound wisdom and calm prophetic assurance -- a meticulously-woven array of words to astound and wow the viewer.

TAX

At one time he said that public participation was carried out during the run-up to the tax being imposed by Parliament, at another time he said it was not done.

More confusing is that Kenyans who are expected to contribute the tax will have to participate in a lottery to be assigned new houses. It led one social media user to quip that the government should also draw a lottery for people to contribute the new taxes.

In reality, the housing levy has been an ambush, with no public participation -- a top-down formulation and implementation of a policy with major consequences for families.

As a result of the lack of public participation, there are dozens of unanswered questions about what the implementation of the fund will mean. The first unanswered question is whether indeed there had been public participation. Mr Hinga, in a November 2018 interview with the Nation, said that public participation had taken place.

The matter is already in court and as he fumbles and mumbles his way out of journalists' questions, perhaps Mr Hinga had better be advised to go slow on a matter he is rarely communicating about.

What is not in doubt is that the new tax has not been explained well, and Mr Hinga seems to be unable to communicate about it. His flip-flopping does not inspire confidence; it leaves the public more confused about the whole scheme.

His resume shows a go-getter who, despite having come from a humble family, rose to the highest ranks of the corporate world in South Africa.

GRAFT

Having lived in South Africa since 1999, Hinga once noted the contrast and similarities between the two countries are clear to him.

"South Africa is a resource-based economy and therefore they have a lot of money from their minerals.

"The level of corruption cannot be understated just like in Kenya, but unlike in Kenya, projects get delivered on time. Here a project and I can give you an example of Westlands market, which was supposed to take seven months to build, but has taken over 10 years to complete.

"From where I sit this is totally unacceptable and we have got to change course as the delays are not in the public interest. We must import some private sector discipline where projects are originated and completed within timelines to give Kenyans value for their money," he once told the Nation.

But even as he looks at the problem from a bird's-eye view, Mr Hinga had better understand that Kenyans do not understand how affordable housing tax is of help to them.

The government has no shortage of spin doctors. He could deploy their help.

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