Price Control bill offers cosmetic solutions

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STEPHEN MUTORO

The high cost of living in Kenya is a man-made phenomenon. It does not emerge out of a natural disaster. It is not necessarily about a weak regulatory regime. It is purely and squarely that of missing leadership. The political elite has little goodwill and interest, if any, to bring it down.

It is the reason why the Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) is very apprehensive of the proposed Essential Goods Price Control Bill by Mathira MP Ephraim Maina.  Indeed, we commend the President for having declined his assent to the earlier version.

Its\’ planned re-introduction without stakeholders\’ input will be its undoing. We are all agreed that its intentions are good. Theoretically, it makes a good reading. Its practical implementation is what makes Cofek shudder just how realistic it could be.

Indeed it is a desperate time. But we must counter it with desperate measures. The Bill is a very popular one both with MPs and the general public but unfortunately, it offers cosmetic "solutions" to serious challenges.

To begin with, it is difficult to trust that Mr Maina is genuinely fighting for the poor. If he did, he would have led by example when his Budalang\’i colleague Ababu Namwamba filed a similar Motion as MPs either skipped it or walked out of Parliament.

Consumers must not allow populist public relations gimmicks. We need to see more commitment from the political leadership.

Here is why; First and in the short term, price controls are very appealing but their long term ramifications are costly. They make markets very uncompetitive and cause artificial fuel shortages such as what was witnessed last week.

The desperation that followed saw Kenyans fully prepared to pay any cost that would see them access the essential commodity. It is very difficult to see how price controls, by people who do not own the means of production, would have worked out in such a scenario.

Secondly, and as we have urged Mr Maina before, Article 46 of the Constitution provides for a Consumer Protection Bill. Instead of the current piecemeal and disjointed efforts aimed at consumer protection as we believe in his good intentions, he would best have fast-tracked this legislation.

The Consumer Protection Bill draft worked out between the Kenya Law Reform Commission, Cofek and other stakeholders is nearly ready. All it requires is polishing and review by a broader set of stakeholders.

Thirdly, we must as a country look at the cost of corruption as a factor to high consumer prices. Such corruption ranges from major scams such as Triton to poor regulation and skewed procurements.

Finally, fair regulation is critical. As presently constituted, both stakeholder and regional representation of the Energy Regulatory Commission render it impotent on delivering favourable energy costs – a key component of fair pricing of essential commodities.

Mr Mutoro is the Secretary General, Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek)

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