The government has asked members of Parliament to approve a change to the law to allow the National Youth Service (NYS) to go into business, opening the way for it to become a commercial entity.
The proposal is a small part of the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, but is a significant step for the youth agency that was the subject of a scandal for the best part of Jubilee’s first term.
The proposed change states: “The service may undertake such activities, including activities of a commercial nature, as may be necessary for the achievement of its objectives and the effective performance of its functions.”
If approved, it will allow the agency to expand the scope of its current operations, which mostly involve community work for the personnel, who later undergo specialist training in technical work.
President Uhuru Kenyatta earlier this year ordered the army and the police to buy all their uniforms from the NYS, taking the job from private suppliers.
The NYS has this year ventured into the public transport business, deploying 24 buses to serve nine routes in Nairobi to help out city dwellers who often have to pay double when it rains or there are bad traffic jams.
The agency has been allocated an additional Sh500 million in the second Supplementary Budget, approved on Thursday, to buy more buses.
Public Service Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia last month told a parliamentary committee that the Sh20 charged as fare is only enough to pay for the fuel and service the buses.
“Unless Nairobi gets mass transport, all these are short-term measures. After we acquire 20 more buses, we’ll be able to say how sustainable this is,” she added.
MPs have expressed reservations about the involvement of NYS in transport, noting in the report on the Supplementary Budget that the provision of road transport is a function of the county government.
“It was not clear whether the allocation had been spent in line with the Constitution,” the Budget and Appropriations Committee reported.
While the bill is meant to make small changes to laws, such as replacing the word “minister” with “Cabinet Secretary” or “local authority” with “county”, the current one has raised controversy even before debate begins.
A proposal to change the National Social Security Fund Act has already drawn a protest from the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu).
Cotu said the proposal to have the President, where previously it was the minister, appoint five, rather than seven members of the board, is a sign of the government’s interference.
The union's Secretary-General Francis Atwoli has attributed the changes to what he described as the usual obsession by certain forces in power with the operations of the NSSF.