National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich recently read the 2018/19 budget, which was aptly themed Creating Jobs, Transforming Lives and Sharing Prosperity. This will be achieved through the Big Four agenda which prioritises food security, manufacturing, affordable housing and universal healthcare.
By looking at how the fiscal pie has been shared out, it is evident the Big Four agenda will play a pivotal role in national development in the next financial year and beyond as the four areas of priority enjoy significant funding.
Previous budgets and government spending programmes have been heavy on infrastructure—roads, energy, railways, airports and ports— perhaps owing to the huge infrastructure deficit the country faced in the past.
However, with the Big Four, there is an obvious shift from overemphasis on the hardware of economic growth to creating the right software, directly impacting the social and economic wellbeing of the ordinary citizen.
The four core pillars that President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to address are critical to addressing poverty, inequality and unemployment – factors widely seen as exacerbating the country’s political and social fissures and undermining economic growth.
The trickle-down effect of the Big Four will reflect in reduced cost of living, enhanced access to health care, more jobs for youth and decent shelter for all.
However, realising these lofty goals needs heavy funding. Each pillar has clear deliverables and enabling projects, some of which require billions of shillings to implement. A quick review of the budget reveals a government keen on ensuring the Big Four priority projects are well resourced.
For instance, under food security, the main goal is reducing the cost of food by converting 700,000 acres of land into crop production while boosting smallholder productivity.
To this end, Sh8.5 billion has been allocated to irrigation projects, Sh4.3 billion to subsidised fertiliser and Sh1.4 billion to strategic food reserves. Another Sh1.4 billion will go to mechanising agriculture and diversifying crop production.
Manufacturing will be critical in driving job creation. Increasing GDP share of manufacturing from the current 9.2 per cent to 15 per cent is expected to generate 400,000 new jobs.
Focus will be on rejuvenating untapped sub-sectors such as leather and textiles which have been allocated Sh800 million. At least Sh1.4 billion will be spent on revamping Rivatex, once a thriving State-owned textile firm. This year’s budget also seeks to introduce a raft of duties to cushion local manufacturers from cheap imports.
The housing pillar targets construction of 500,000 decent homes over the next five years and will generate 300,000 jobs.
It will also provide a big market for small and large manufacturers of construction materials. At least Sh18 billion will be mobilised through the Kenya Urban Support Programme to aid construction of low-cost housing units, with Sh3 billion set aside for the project and a similar amount to build houses for police and civil servants.
The Big Four plan envisages universal health coverage (UHC) by 2022. The main enablers of UHC include a revamped National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), well-equipped health facilities and enhanced access to maternal healthcare.
In this sector, Sh13.7 billion has been allocated to the free maternal health programme and Sh2 billion to fund free primary healthcare. Another Sh7 billion will be used to purchase equipment for cancer screening and treatment.
Going by the figures, it is quite clear that the Big Four plan will account for a sizeable portion of public expenditure going forward.
But given mounting concern over rampant corruption in the public sector, Kenyans will have to be very vigilant in tracking how cash earmarked for the Big Four projects is spent.
Parliament and other institutions tasked with protecting public funds will also have to step up their oversight antennae to ensure money is not lost through graft and other malpractices.
The government must, therefore, not relent in the ongoing war on corruption. There is talk of cartels angling to reap from lucrative projects linked to the Big Four. Their plans must be thwarted from the onset. Billions of shillings of taxpayers’ money are at stake.
The President must take keen interest in the project to keep greedy individuals off the noble Big Four agenda. He must escalate and sustain the war on corruption to secure his legacy. – Writer is a lawyer and public affairs specialist—[email protected]