Friday, June 12, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 12, 2009

Uhuru’s budget speech reminded me of a bedtime story my grand mother used to tell me as a little boy. It was about a little house rat that would visit her kitchen in the dead of the night looking for what to eat. However, if it didn’t find anything edible, it would nibble at the toes of grandchildren sleeping at the old woman’s hut. The interesting thing was that this rat was so intelligent that it would not bite huge chunks of the little ones’ toes lest they wake up before it nibbled its fill. Further more; every bite would be followed by a soothing effect to reassure its victim that all was well down there. And only later after the little thief had eaten its fill and gone would the victims wake up to irritating pain at their toes only to find the jagged marks of the little thief’s teeth.

As Uhuru took away fuel guzzlers from ministers, permanent secretaries and other constitutional office holders to save rare cash from a non performing economy, it looked like he was out to punish the few privileged honorable members. Yet, as this luxurious status symbol was being removed, he made sure that every constituency had its share of more cash than any MP would have bargained for. Further more; he refrained from venturing into Amos Kimunya’s landmine- taxation for the honorable members of our society.

One thing Uhuru should be weary of is the ministers’ affinity for big and wasteful cars. Much as the Finance Minister may have good intensions, chances are they will fight tooth and nail in the cabinet to keep their prized symbols of power. The tragedy is that when the policy dies in the cabinet, the rest of the top dogs in government will see no need to obey the order. The question to ask is this: Will Uhuru have better luck than Amos Kimunya before him?

The idea of computer labs in every constituency is an excellent idea and the one million computers countrywide in the next couple of years is equally brilliant. A quick calculation makes 5000 computers available in every constituency by the end of the campaign.

Assuming that one computer can be comfortably used by at least 10 people per day, we are seeing at least 50,000 people having access to the internet and other facilities that this new communication wonder will bring to the village.

However, there are a number of challenges that the planners and implementers of this program must bear in mind. First, computers require computer literacy. How many villagers are computer literate to make use of this device? Assuming that this illiteracy can be overcome by computer lab instructors, have we factored in maintenance and recurrent expenditure on consumables?

My take is that an organization like Posta Kenya, Telkom Kenya or Safaricom should be roped in as a partner to run these centers and maintain basic standards of cleanliness that computers require.

If there is one thing that computers are allergic to, it is dust. Cool and dust free environments can only be maintained by commercially cultured institutions already in business. This, Uhuru must factor in before implementing this beautiful program.
It is true Uhuru didn’t raise taxes on anything including the usual suspects like cigarettes and alcohol yet he read the biggest budget in Kenya’s history.

The question many people are asking is this: Where will the money come from to do all these things that Uhuru has pledged to do? But like William Ruto quipped yesterday on a local television show; there is always a lot of money in government that gets siphoned off by crooked technocrats from time to time. To prove his point, he asked Kenyans to stop and think of how much money Kenyans have lost through Golden Berg, Anglo Leasing and other scams since 1990. What he meant was that the taxes we collect can develop this country if only our political managers were mindful of the welfare of this country.

The one thing that must worry Uhuru is the inflation rate that has climbed to 26% with the potential to grow even hire. If this trend is not arrested and even reduced in the foreseeable future, Kenyans may find it very difficult to maker ends meet.

Finally, now that Uhuru has found the guts to deprive ministers and other top government officials of fuel guzzlers with plans to sell them off and use the cash to resettle IDPs, he should in equal measure check Parliament’s growing appetite for wasteful projects like building a new house for the Speaker and building a fly-over and extra offices that MPs will hardly put to proper use. More importantly, he must find a way to tax members of parliament to bridge the gasp between parliamentary representatives and their electorate. If councilors and magistrates are paying taxes, there should be no reason why MPs and judges should avoid taxes.