Kenya: Big Four Plan Suffers as Cash Goes to Virus Fight

President Uhuru Kenyatta (file photo).

The Covid-19 pandemic has spelt doom for the ambitious Big Four Agenda, which was meant to secure President Uhuru Kenyatta's legacy.

In a double blow, it has also halted the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that was fermenting into a referendum.

But these two plans have now been frozen due to unavailability of resources as well as the impracticability of holding national wide rallies in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, Parliament voted to freeze spending on Big Four projects to secure resources needed in the fight against the virus.

"Due to the prevailing economic situation, we propose to freeze implementation of projects in the development budget including allocation to the Big Four projects," Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said in a brief to Parliament as he sought approvals to the second supplementary budget, which saw him allocate Sh40 billion to Covid-19 related expenditures.

"In this regard, we have rationalised Sh96 billion from the unspent balances of Sh122.1 billion of the GoK development budget," Mr Yatani said.

In his budget, there was no money allocated for a referendum, meaning that there is no chance of holding one this year.

REFERENDUM ISSUE

Before Covid-19 struck, it had been expected that the Treasury will reallocate some resources to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for the vote, which had the backing of state machinery and was being driven by Opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Tracking coronavirus

The BBI team led by Yusuf Haji was initially scheduled to hand President Uhuru Kenyatta an interim report this week but this was not to be.

And now, Senator Haji says they are monitoring how long the pandemic persists with a view to asking for more time to finalise its report, as and when normalcy returns.

On Saturday, he told the Sunday Nation that he was upbeat the disease would soon be over.

Mr Haji, also the Garissa senator, had initially said there would be no need to ask for an extension if the conditions would have allowed them back in office by Labour Day.

This is now not practically possible given the upsurge in number of those who have tested positive of the virus.

"We have up to June to wind up. And since we were at the tail end of the process, we do need a lot of time if we can resume work at the beginning of next month," he said a fortnight ago.

Equally, Mr Haji denied reports that the government had diverted funds from BBI to combat Covid-19.

"We are well supported by the government, ignore any rumours about taps running dry. The only reason we have not moved according to our projections is coronavirus," he said.

ECONOMIC RECOVERY

In the current budget, the (IEBC) had been allocated Sh4.5 billion, which was to increase marginally by Sh200 million to Sh4.6 billion in the next financial year that starts in July.

But this was slashed by Sh230 million in the supplementary budget, revising its budget to Sh4.3 billion.

IEBC said in an earlier interview that the budget did not have any money for a referendum and that it would require a fresh budget to conduct the plebiscite.

"If a referendum was to be conducted, we would need a separate budget," acting IEBC chief executive officer Marjan Marjan said. IEBC estimates that a referendum would cost taxpayers about Sh12 billion.

As a sign of times, the government allocated Mr Odinga Sh72 million through the supplementary budget that will cover the costs of his temporary workers, insurance, buy him office furniture as well as buy an official vehicle even as the country struggled to find resources to fight the Covid 19 pandemic.

The government is now focused on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and strategies to stimulate the economy post the crisis.

Given how deep the pandemic is estimated to hurt the global economy, early projections show that it would take more than a year for the world to get back to its feet and recoup losses incurred during this period.

That is time that the Jubilee government does not have if it has to deliver on its plans before its term comes to an end.

EXPENDITURE

Besides the Big Four projects, the National Treasury has also rationalised projects funded by development partners in what saw it reduce their expenditure from Sh320.6 billion to Sh241.2 billion.

Some of these projects had been listed as enablers to the four pillars of the Big Four plan.

By March this year, the recurrent expenditure had a shortfall of Sh104 billion, mainly due to lower than targeted expenditure on pensions and payments of debts and foreign interests on loans.

This is after the government spent Sh1.176 trillion against a target of Sh1.28 trillion in the first nine months of the current financial year.

On its part, development expenditure as at March was at Sh397.4 billion against a target of Sh487.2 billion translating to a shortfall of Sh89.8 billion.

This was on account of lower than targeted absorption for externally funded projects by Sh59.6billion.

This year, the government had set aside Sh450.9 billion towards the drivers of the Big Four plan.

In making the current budget, all government ministries and departments were asked to align all their spending plans towards the Big Four Agenda.

"Ministries, departments and agencies while finalising the expenditure estimates for the next fiscal year and medium term were required to align their proposals towards realisation of the 'Big Four' Plan," the budget statement notes.

KEY INTERVENTIONS

The theme of the budget, read by the former Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich was creating jobs, transforming lives -- harnessing the Big Four Plan. This meant that any expenditure that was not going to support the big four agenda was denied resources.

"This theme resonates with our strategies towards a stronger economy that will generate more employment opportunities and provide better livelihoods for Kenyans. In this budget, therefore, we are laying a firm foundation for accelerated growth and shared prosperity," Mr Rotich said in his last budget statement before being hounded out of office.

To support the health pillar, the government had allocated Sh47.8 billion for the Universal Health Coverage.

Some of the specific interventions that had been lined up included scaling up universal health coverage to the rest of the counties as well as providing the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) cover for the elderly and severely disabled.

Another Sh7.9 billion was given to the Sports, Arts and Social Development Fund to bankroll the universal healthcare initiatives.

A further Sh2.9 billion was allocated for the internship programme for doctors, clinical officers and nurses while Sh14.4 billion was allocated for Kenyatta National Hospital, Sh9.2 billion for Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Sh2.3 billion for Kenya Medical Research Institute and Sh7.4 billion for Kenya Medical Training Centres (KMTC).

HOUSING

To support the housing pillar of the Big Four Agenda, the Jubilee government planned to spend Sh10.5 billion to cater for social housing and construction of affordable housing units, including housing Units for the police and Kenya prison.

Included in this amount was Sh2.3 billion for the Public Servants Housing Mortgage Scheme and Sh5 billion for the National Housing Development Fund, as contributions by Government for its employees.

The government is also counting on the recently established Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company (KMRC) to provide Kenyans access to affordable mortgage loans for purposes of acquiring homes.

KMRC has received capital injection Sh1 billion from Government, and Sh35 billion credit line from the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank.

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