Kenya: Concern as Big Four Projects Slide Down Kenyatta's Priority List

President Uhuru Kenyatta (file photo).

Touted as the projects that will cement President Uhuru Kenyatta's legacy as he leaves office after serving two terms, the pillars of the Big Four agenda are slipping down on his administration's priority list, dimming hopes that he will fulfil his promises to Kenyans.

The Big Four's main objectives were to ensure quality and affordable healthcare, provide affordable and decent houses to an increasing population and create millions of jobs through manufacturing.

Going by the budget estimates for the 2021/2022 fiscal year, read yesterday at Parliament by National Treasury CS Ukur Yatani, the Big Four projects have been allocated only Sh135 billion, a slight increase from the Sh128.3 billion they received in the current year.

The Jubilee administration sought to build 500,000 housing units by 2022, a target likely to be missed as only a paltry 1,700 have been built.

But with barely 15 months to the end of President Kenyatta's second term, there are concerns Jubilee may not achieve the intended milestones.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that this year's budget is the last full financial year for the Jubilee administration, putting the President in a precarious position as he has no other avenue for ensuring that his legacy is sealed as he had envisioned.

Post-pandemic recovery plan

This is likely to provide political fodder for allies of Deputy President William Ruto ahead of the 2022 polls. The DP's supporters at many political forums accused ODM leader Raila of interfering, through 'the handshake', with Jubilee's plan to deliver on the Big Four.

Owing to Covid-19, Jubilee slashed Sh54 billion from the budget -- largely development funds -- in favour of a post-pandemic recovery plan. An allocation of Sh26 billion is proposed for this year.

The Parliamentary Budget Office, in its review of the current budget, said the projects were faced with many challenges, hampering effective implementation.

"Some of the projects being implemented didn't undergo feasibility studies hence unforeseen challenges related to project implementation occur; budget cuts, and pending bills," the PBO report says.

"It is observed that the Big Four Agenda does not appear to have much prominence in the budget. Other than an indication that it has been allocated Sh135 billion in the next financial year, there is no further discussion or how the government will ensure that at least a certain percentage of the targets are met."

PBO is a technical body based in Parliament with the main function of advising the House and its various committees on fiscal matters.

It is another major setback for President Kenyatta and his handshake partner Raila Odinga as the Treasury has not provided any cash for a referendum.

BBI referendum process

That will jolt attempts by the two leaders to spearhead the much hyped reforms through a constitutional change as proposed under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

In budget estimates, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will get Sh1.1 billion for voter education, Sh2.8 billion for voter registration and Sh3 billion above the current budget for the ICT unit, but there is nothing for a referendum.

Promoters of the BBI had projected that the referendum would be held by June 14, a timeline that is now clearly uncertain following the High Court decision that annulled the BBI referendum process and the pending case at the Court of Appeal.

The IEBC had projected that it would need Sh14 billion to fund the BBI referendum, an amount the commission says can change depending on how many new voters register before the poll.

As the Jubilee administration grapples with the challenges of the Big Four Agenda, the much hyped laptop project also hangs in the balance.

The dynamic duo projected themselves as a digital government and promised to ensure that all pupils in primary schools are supplied with laptops to aid in their learning.

Digital Learning Programme

In 2019, a joint committee of the National Assembly and the Senate on ICT and education said in its report the aspirations of the programme were yet to be achieved as primary schools were yet to fully achieve the objectives of the government's Sh30 billion Digital Learning Programme.

Another report by the Ministry of Education in December 2019 also returned a harsh verdict on the multibillion-shilling laptops project as it found that national implementation stands at a paltry five per cent.

ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru told the Senate last year that the project is likely to stall due to massive budgetary cuts.

According to a ministry report, 21,623 of 21,729 public primary schools had received devices - tablets and laptops. Some 1,168,798 devices have been supplied.

The reports said devices had not been supplied to 34 schools in Samburu, five in Marsabit, four in Turkana, two each in Mombasa, Meru, Nairobi, Murang'a, Nakuru and Tharaka Nithi and one in Narok.

However, the ministry report shows, 20 schools have had their electricity disconnected by Kenya Power due non-payment of bills.

The one-laptop-per-child idea in Jubilee's Digital Learning Programme was meant, ostensibly, to entrench ICT in teaching and learning in primary schools.

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