, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 20 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Friday said that the forthcoming general elections will test the nation’s commitment to the ideals of democracy and the sanctity of the ballot.
Noting that the elections provided Kenyans with the opportunity to restore confidence in the country after the bungled 2007 elections, Odinga said the country’s leadership has to reassure the world and citizens that the elections which will be the first under the new Constitution will be free, fair and transparent.
He said: “We have to ensure that the elections will be held in an atmosphere that meets the best international standards, that they will take place in an atmosphere free of intimidation, blackmail, victimisation and ethnic mobilisation.”
“We must and we shall use the coming elections to show that we are marching forward sadder, but wiser.”
The PM was speaking at a Nairobi Hotel when he addressed the 27th meeting of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC).
Emphasising that the government was committed to holding ideal elections, Odinga expressed confidence that the country’s new and vibrant institutions were gearing up for this role.
“They look equal to the task, ready to stand up for the nation. Let us do our part; then together we shall rise again,” he said.
On the economic front, the PM asked NESC to help Kenya defy recent negative global economic trends, noting with wise counsel and the resilience of the private sector, the country’s economy could grow at least by 5.2 percent this year.
Saying concerted efforts were needed to bring down the cost of living, Odinga noted with concern that the high cost of maize flour makes it to be beyond the reach of many Kenyans while the high cost and erratic supply of energy are making it very difficult for local industries to compete.
The Prime Minister also touched on bank interest rates, saying the rates had been let to stay at the current high levels for too long after they were raised to stabilise the shilling sometimes last year.
He said it was a matter of great concern that the lending rates rose very sharply while the rates the banks pay to their customers for their savings did not increase as much.
“This means that banks are making even more profits while the savers earn less. Something has to be done,” he added.
Odinga noted with satisfaction that in its agenda the NESC will look at the role it can play in the implementation of devolved structures of Government, and asked the council to recommend policies that will enable Kenyans to cultivate shared values for nation-building, cohesion and peaceful co-existence.
On job creation, the PM lamented that unemployment subjected the youth to deprivation and suffering adding it is was also a loss to the economy because it meant the county was not making use of the rich human resources in the country.
“I am happy that the council will be discussing policy options that will create jobs,” he added.
He also spoke about Credit Guarantee Schemes and expressed shock that only $ 88.5 million of credit guarantees are available to small businesses in Kenya.
Noting the figure was inadequate Odinga urged NESC to recommend how Credit Guarantee Schemes should be strengthened to better assist small businesses.