The chaotic scenes in the National Assembly on Thursday were a reflection of the strident lamentations of Kenyans over the high cost of living.
With a gaping shortfall of Sh500 billion to finance a Sh3 trillion Budget, one can understand the government’s predicament in balancing the pressure placed on the taxpayer against the necessity to meet its obligations.
In such complex times, it helps to step back and look through our collective actions as a nation, reflect on what we have done well, where we have had challenges and where we could do better.
This would lead to identification of new opportunities where consensus is built to replicate and scale our efforts, resulting in better outcomes for both the taxpayer and tax collector.
While this austere economic environment demands greater fiscal discipline by all Kenyans, it also affords us the opportunity to be creative to transform our nation’s fortunes. One such often-overlooked opportunity is improved public services.
A case in point is the Huduma centres.
Launched in November 2013 under then Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru, now Governor of Kirinyaga County, the centres were conceived under the Huduma programme.
One of the Vision 2030 flagship projects, the programme sought to improve government services by providing one-stop-shop style offices where the public could readily access several services empowered by an integrated information and communication technology (ICT) platform. Riding on the crest of devolution, the centres were deployed in every county.
Studies show Huduma centres helped Kenyans to save money and improved revenue collection for the government.
A 2015 Huduma Kenya study, ‘Cost Benefit Analysis to Citizens’, found that the government’s return on investment for Sh3 billion spend had outweighed the cost factor by four. Moreover, citizens saved an impressive Sh9 billion as a result of this basic reform in public sector.
The breakdown of this saving was pegged down to righting wrongs and creating efficiency in service delivery. Specifically, cutting bribery channels, eliminating time lost in travel to Nairobi for services and unnecessary man hours spent queuing for services at congested government offices.
The net effect of this inconvenience cost Kenyans an estimated Sh845 million annually in acquiring birth certificates, Sh747 million for stamp duty assessment charges and Sh9 billion in getting identity cards.
The Huduma Programme has, indeed, yielded far greater returns for the national economy. Obvious and tangible benefits include ease of doing business, which has significantly increased formalisation of several businesses as legal entities, potentially enhancing their chances of accessing credit, growing output, creating jobs and widening the tax base.
Furthermore, Huduma Centres have helped to streamline other government revenue collection bodies and disbursement institutions such as the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb), whose ripple effect has an exponential impact on virtually every sector of the economy.
The centres collect about Sh12 billion while saving every Kenyan Sh3,060 in transport, time and the trouble of seeking government services. This is a strong indication that there is room to explore the under-stated value of public sector re-form.
County governments are best-placed to harness the power of the Huduma success. With support from the national government, they must be encouraged to replicate the Huduma model in their devolved sectors.
Consolidating their services under one roof and leveraging on the transparency and accountability of ICT can save costs for ‘Wanjiku’ as the government builds sustainable revenue collection mechanisms to finance development.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The Huduma centres model provides food for thought on what more we can do to bridge the gap between government priorities and the citizens’ earnest pursuit for better pay and lower costs of living.
The most recent ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking by the World Bank placed Kenya at a commendable 80th out of 190 nations worldwide. Further public sector re-forms can easily get us to the coveted top 50. The report rightly cites acquisition of land and property and construction as being in dire need of reform.
Streamlining government systems so that services become more accessible to the public while holding the institutions and office holders accountable and eliminating channels for bribery and extortion by cartels will improve revenue collection and boost efficiency while helping the citizenry to save money.
Mr Mtana is the chairman of the Kaya Advisory Board. [email protected]