The Big Four agenda for inclusive growth in Kenya signals a significant shift in the country’s development trajectory to focus more on policies and projects that directly impact the life of the ordinary citizen.
Previously, more emphasis was on the hardware of development including roads, ports, railways, airports, power plants and factories.
The beauty of the Big Four vision is the resonance with issues that directly affect the common mwananchi such as cost of living, jobs, shelter and health care. Whereas the “hardware” needed to drive growth is crucial, of equal importance is the “software” required to drive the Big Four pillars of food security, manufacturing, housing and universal health care. By “software” I refer to the policy and legal interventions needed to accelerate realization of this ambitious national social and economic transformation project.
We have to put in place the right policy and legislative architecture to make the Big Four a reality. Fortunately, the right policies are there. They only require implementation and maybe some fine-tuning. Similarly, many of the laws needed to translate policies into actionable programmes and projects are also in place. The next step should be plugging gaps in policy and legislation under each of the four pillars.
True, policies and laws take time to develop and refine. But given the five-year time frame of the Big Four, there is urgency in policy and legal reform. It is possibly out of this stark reality, and to avert stalling of the Big Four agenda, that the Jubilee administration has been quietly implementing some quick wins even as the policy and legal framework is addressed.
Food security: Key to achieving food security is prioritizing projects with an immediate positive and sustainable impact on food production. Besides resuscitating large scale irrigation projects, the government should also support smallholder farmers who constitute the bulk of the food production ecosystem. A good example is a Ksh240 million fund to support women in agribusiness sourced from the European Union through the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation. In addition, fiscal reforms to spur agricultural productivity and efficiency are critical. The proposed zero-rating of materials for construction of grain storage facilities will encourage investment in the country’s grain storage capacity thus reducing food loss and wastage.
Manufacturing: Apart from the high cost of energy, cheap imports have been cited as a major threat to the growth of local manufacturing. The ongoing war on counterfeits and contraband goods should therefore be viewed as a way of encouraging local manufacturers to ramp up production and thus create additional jobs for Kenyans as envisaged in the Big Four. The government has also promised manufacturers cheaper power. The expected completion of the 76 MW Garissa Solar Plant later this year is expected to bring down the cost of power to 5.6 cents per unit.
Housing: The proposed reduction of corporate tax to 15 per cent for developers who put up a minimum of 100 housing units per annum appears aimed at encouraging private investment in affordable housing. Construction of one million affordable housing units by 2022 under the housing pillar of the Big Four requires a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. The government alone cannot meet this target. The formation of the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company is now underway. It should be expedited to provide a vehicle for long-term financing of the housing sector.
Universal health care: Ensuring all Kenyans have access to affordable, quality healthcare must begin with tackling morbidity and mortality from vaccine preventable diseases. In June, the ministry of health launched a massive countrywide immunization program targeting 400,000 children. The decision to bring in specialist doctors from Cuba, and to send 50 Kenyan medics to Cuba to learn ways of improving our health system, is one of the most significant moves thus far toward achieving universal health care for all Kenyans.
It is clear above that the interventions with an immediate impact on the Big Four pillars of food security, manufacturing, housing and health care are already in motion. More however needs be done in terms of creating the right policy and legal environment for the private sector to partner with government in driving the Big Four agenda.
We must also deal decisively with corruption which undermines the success and viability of the Big Four. The ongoing war on rampant graft should be seen as an effort to make public agencies tasked with delivering the Big Four pillars fully accountable to the taxpayer. This will ensure resources are prudently managed so that Kenyans get real value for money.
Mr Choto is a lawyer and public affairs specialist. [email protected]