Acting Finance Minister Ukur Yatani may not have been speaking from both sides of his mouth but it surely looks that way, seeing that he pushed and got parliamentary approval to raise Kenya’s borrowing threshold to Sh9 trillion.
He did this even as he projected himself as the potential budget fixer with an honest and quite uncomplimentary evaluation of the country’s debt status.
He is trying to achieve the difficult balance of being an idealistic pragmatist — one honest enough to want to force unruly Kenya to live within its means, but also aware that the nature of commitments already made by the government, and which are now due or past due, cannot be wished away through aggressive belt tightening.
In fact, he will have to borrow beyond what even his predecessor Henry Rotich had planned for this year to execute government programmes.
Which is a pity really. This fence-sitting when decisive action is required is the bane of Kenya.
Almost everyone that should know what is supposed to be done to harness the economic potential of this country and restore excitement and hope in the population is simply not doing it. Except the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and that of the Directorate of Criminal Intelligence. But the two offices also have to ensure those they have charged are convicted.
The State Department for Trade surely must know that to create employment in quantities that will make a difference to the unemployed and under-employed millions, policies must go beyond encouraging Foreign Direct Investment and Domestic Direct Employment.
While increased FDI and DDI is absolutely necessary and must be encouraged, these alone will not create the hundreds of thousands of jobs required every year.
I am persuaded that the one gaping hole in our investment policy is a requirement that any products imported to be sold in the country, or those that are manufactured here, must have a specific minimum amount of local content. Such a policy may be considered protectionist and will certainly be resisted but countries have never developed by being faint-hearted about protecting what will make them strong.
Kenya will not be the first country to enforce such a policy but it speaks to how difficult it is to effect that in Africa; only South Africa so far has a local content requirement for its automotive industry — a sector that employs about 38 per cent of its salaried citizens.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co-operatives on November 6 2019 launched the Kenya Investment Policy and the County Investment Handbook, critical documents intended to streamline the regime that governs the process of attracting, settling in and protecting foreign and domestic investors.
These two well-thought out documents are expected to introduce order where little existed before. Although they hint at a “reserve list” of sectors that will be ring-fenced for local investors, the policies will increase FDI and DDI and help Kenya’s efforts to quickly enter the global top-50 countries bracket of the ease-of-doing business.
But they will not be the catalysts that trigger jobs across a multiplicity of sectors as insistence on use of local content can. The presidential directive that 30 per cent of all materials used in the housing component of the Big 4 Agenda must be local, will be ignored because there is no legal framework to enforce it.
The Chinese firm that built the SGR ignored a similar requirement and nothing happened.
I am aware that there are proposals lying on the relevant desks at the Department of Industry, but your guess is as good as mine as to why little is visibly being done.
Visible is key here.
A jaded, suspicious and tired bunch of Kenyans are not going to swallow the line that things are happening behind the scenes. They have been cheated a long time — even being fed with a story of a phantom growth of the economy!
Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i is making a name (and a mark) for himself because he is seen to be doing things. The DCI and the DPP are making waves because they are seen to be delivering. So is Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana.
President Uhuru Kenyatta can borrow a leaf from his friend Paul Kagame — make those that are supposed to do things, do something. Not fence sit. Not double speak.
Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Media Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi)