Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Wednesday put up one of the most spirited defence of the government’s reforms scorecard at a meeting with the business community.
The Prime Minister literally veered off his main speech to respond to criticism of the scorecard released by himself and President Kibaki, awarding the government a 90 per cent score in implementing reforms under Agenda 4 of the National Accord.
In his remarks, the chairman of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) Engineer Patrick Obath had questioned the variations in the scorecards released by the two principals, chief mediator Kofi Annan and the private sector, noting that it remained unclear who was telling the truth.
Coming out of a meeting with the former United Nations Secretary General last week, Mr Obath dismissed the 90 per cent scorecard, saying the private sector had returned a ten per cent scorecard. Mr Annan on his part acknowledged that the government had made some steps towards initiating the various reforms but warned that a lot needs to be done and that time was fast running out.
But in a spirited defence, Mr Odinga maintained that time was still on the government’s side, noting that there are three years to go before the country holds another election.
“We formed this government out of a crisis, in April last year, this is just 2009, the next elections will be in 2012 so I don’t know where this talk of government running out of time is coming from,” Mr Odinga argued.
He explained that a lot of time was spent making decisions within government because of the conflicting manifestoes adopted by the two coalition partners, ODM and PNU.
“We forget that we were dealing with two teams which had diametrically opposed manifestoes, PNU was saying kazi iendelee (work to continue) while us in ODM were saying kazi ianze, (work to begin) we had to harmonise this two manifestoes, mchanganyiko maalum, (a mixture),” he argued to the amusement of the business sector elites gathered at the Hilton hotel for the 4th Prime Minister’s roundtable talks with KEPSA.
The PM went on to explain how the government had to wait for up to six months for the Kriegler and Waki commissions to complete their tasks before they could start implementing their projects.
He noted that it was a “great” achievement for the two coalition partners to reach an agreement that the Kivuitu team needed to be kicked out of office in line with the recommendations of the Kriegler Commission.
The PM also fended off criticism that the government was not committed to reviewing the constitution, saying it was imperative that the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) completes its mandate before a national referendum is called.
“We have set up TJRC to reconcile Kenyans because we do not want to go to a referendum when our people are divided,” he stated.
He further defended the government’s decision to form the various commissions and task forces, saying it was important to hear and incorporate the views of Kenyans when making important decisions.
“People are talking about commissions, that they are too many and are wasting time. Do you expect I and president Kibaki to go out there and tell you where the new boundaries are? Do you expect the President and myself to go out there and say that all people who committed atrocities between independence and today are forgiven?”
The PM said the government needed to be hailed for coming up with projects such as the Kazi Kwa Vijana which aims at giving short term jobs to 300,000 youth across the country.
He said the government had managed to put in place such projects at a time Kenya is facing serious economic hardships.
Addressing the forum, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta underscored the government’s commitment to creating an enabling environment for business people.
He said Treasury was working closely with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to fast track the payment of tax refunds and announced that very soon, reliable and straightforward taxpayers would be paid their refunds in advance as the taxman processed their papers.
He was responding to complaints by Eng. Obath that the taxman was taking too long to make tax refunds, thereby inconveniencing business people.
Mr Kenyatta said the government had also allocated Sh140 billion during the current financial year to improve its infrastructure in order to reduce the cost of doing business.