Corruption will stall Big Four projects if not tamed now

The 2018 Budget presented by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich was aptly themed Creating Jobs, Transforming Lives and Sharing Prosperity in line with the government’s Big Four Agenda on food security, manufacturing, affordable housing and universal healthcare.

By looking at how the fiscal pie has been shared out in this year’s Budget, it is evident the Big Four will play a pivotal role in national development in the next financial year and beyond. Big Four sector pillars – agriculture, manufacturing, housing and health – are set to 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 over-emphasis on the “hardware” of economic growth to creating the right “software” directly impacting the social and economic wellbeing of the ordinary citizen.

Therefore, projects skewed to food production, job creation though manufacturing, as well as affordable housing and healthcare, have been prioritized in the State spending plan.

The four core pillars 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, realizing 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 this year’s Budget under each pillar reveals a government keen on ensuring the Big Four priority projects are properly resourced and funded.

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, Ksh8.5 billion has been allocated to irrigation projects, Ksh4.3 billion to subsidized fertilizer and Ksh1.4 billion to strategic food reserves. Another Ksh1.4 billion will go to mechanizing 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 like leather and textiles which have been allocated Ksh 800 million. Ksh1.4 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. Ksh18 billion will be mobilized through the Kenya Urban Support Programme to support construction of low cost housing units. Ksh3 billion has been set aside for low cost housing development 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. Ksh13.7 billion has been allocated to the free maternal health programme and Ksh2 billion to fund free primary healthcare. Ksh7 billion will be used to purchase equipment for cancer screening and treatment.

Going by the figures alone, 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 by the relevant agencies. Parliament and other institutions tasked with protecting public funds will also have to step up their oversight role to ensure money is not lost through graft and other malpractices.

To safeguard the Big Four gains and thus improve the welfare of all Kenyans, the government must not relent in the ongoing war on corruption. There is talk of cartels angling to reap from lucrative projects linked to the Big Four. Some like maize and fertilizer purchase and supply of medical equipment and drugs are obvious magnets for graft cartels and tenderprenuers. Billions of shillings of taxpayer money are at stake.

Corruption networks if not checked and dismantled pose a mortal threat to President Kenyatta’s otherwise noble Big Four Agenda. He must therefore escalate and sustain the war on corruption by dealing decisively with corruption barons and their agents in order to secure his legacy in his final term in office.

Mr Choto is a lawyer and public affairs specialist.

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