I went through the Budget statement by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and here is what caught my attention. I wanted to interrogate the Budget to see whether the spending plans have been changed and re-prioritised to reflect what is contained in the much-touted ‘Big Four’ agenda.
Mark you, the minister had indicated that a massive Sh460 billion had been allocated to the plan. So, as I scrutinised the documents, I expected to — with such a huge figure — see massive incremental expenditure in allocations and votes of ministries that have been given the responsibility of implementing programmes and projects in the four areas.
I hoped to see huge budget cuts and reductions in existing projects and programmes in budgets of ministries and departments that are traditionally favoured with large and lumpy allocations — such as the Office of the President, Department of Defence and National Intelligence Service.
I wanted to see where the fiscal space to accommodate the spending plan on the ‘Big Four’ would come from.
I found out that when the CS announced that Sh460 billion would be spent on the ‘Big Four’, he did not mean to say that the huge amount was about to be spent on food security, affordable housing, universal healthcare and manufacturing.
The Budget makers were very clever: What they did was merely add the phrase ‘enablers of the Big Four’. The money will thus be spent on the ‘Big Four’ plus the ‘enablers’ — which include OP, DoD, NIS and the Education and Infrastructure ministries.
That’s how the ‘Big Four’ budget was lumped together with those of ministries with no responsibility for it to create the make-believe narrative of a massive allocation to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s final-term flagship project.
It came as an anti-climax because the original idea of the ‘Big Four’ agenda — as I understood it — was an attempt at re-orienting budgetary allocations by selecting a few core and clearly chosen priorities to be delivered within a timeframe.
We understood the whole thing to mean that the President had, in his last term in office, engaged in an audacious effort to steer the government away from a tradition where most public revenues end up being spent on consumption rather production — and in ministries and departments that made little impact on economic activity.
Why are we flaunting the ‘Big Four’ agenda when the truth of the matter is that spending plans and priorities have not changed in a significant way to reflect the focus on the four “pillars”? Where is the economic justification in continuing with huge allocations to departments and ministries?
Where is the logic in a tradition where ministries and departments with opaque budgets, that are hardly audited, are year in, year out given disproportionately larger budgetary allocations than those with better wealth creation potential — such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development? Why is it that we keep giving lip service to agriculture and manufacturing?
Indeed, a recent study that conducted a line by line scrutiny of votes and allocations for food and nutrition — by looking at the current Budgetary Policy Statement and the Programme-Based Budget published by the National Treasury in April — came to the conclusion that, even after the launching of the ‘Big Four’, Kenya’s spending on food and nutrition was still at a mere 3.4 per cent of total expenditure.
According to the study, this level of spending is way lower than the target set by the Maputo Declaration — to which Kenya is a signatory — in which African governments committed to allocate 10 per cent of their total budgets to food and nutrition security.
Granted, security, roads, education and health — what Budget makers have christened as ‘enablers’— will remain high on our list of priorities for a long time. Yet it will continue to be business usual without a complete re-orientation of spending priorities, without focusing on a few core areas — and without making significant cuts in some of the non-priority expenditures.
And, we will need to grow out of the obsession with the so-called mega projects that only serve to saddle future generations with expensive Chinese debts.
And, why has agriculture and manufacturing been progressively alienated from resources?
It is because resources have to be removed to departments implementing mega projects with big opportunities for economic rent. You stand a better chance of earning fat kick-backs when you allocate money to purchase police helicopters than for agricultural extension services and artificial insemination.