NAIROBI, KENYA: Politicians have taken the referendum debate to a new level with discussions on whether Kenya needs to hold another plebiscite.
A key reason given by many in support of a referendum is the constitutional offices and commissions introduced in 2010 that are alleged to be an additional financial burden to taxpayers.
The Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, (Cotu) Francis Atwoli, last week underscored this point during a panel discussion on television on the same topic, stating that the government’s growing wage bill has resulted in the ballooning debt stock.
“Government is borrowing both locally and internationally because it has created so many constitutional offices that have to be taken care, of some which have no use,” explained Atwoli.
The Cotu boss further argued that the scrapping counties and a return to the old district system would bring down the cost of devolution. A look at the country’s annual budgets spanning the past five years, however, indicates that new constitutional offices are not responsible for ballooning government spending. A lot of the increase in recurrent expenditure is coming from traditional State offices.
Some offices and State departments such as the Office of the President and the Ministry for Interior, for instance, have seen a disproportionate increase in their recurrent expenditure relative to other ministries.
Economist David Ndii points out the total budget for new constitutional commissions and offices in the last financial year combined is far outstripped by the budget allocated to the presidency alone. According to this year’s budget, the combined funds allocated to the commissions for lands, revenue allocation, salaries and remuneration, police service, gender, and administrative justice amount to Sh3.7 billion.
In contrast, the budget allocated to the presidency alone for the same period amounted to Sh8.7 billion. At the same time, while commissions have recorded a 26 per cent increase in budgetary allocations over the past four years, the office of the President has recorded a 150 per cent increase over the same period.
Devolution has seen more than Sh1 trillion of equitable share disbursed directly to counties over the past five years. This has had mixed results across the country with marked development in most parts. However, wasteful expenditure has been reported at the counties with most recently former Bungoma County Assembly members revealed having paid Sh80,000 sitting allowance for a meeting that never happened.
Such wastage is commonplace in public offices and across the dozens of loss-making parastatals, the government has failed to reform. The Auditor General’s report also reports that over 600 billion is wasted by State agencies annually.
Newly created constitutional offices and counties are an easy target for those in government looking for scapegoats for Kenya’s unsustainable debt burden. The World Bank last week advised that Kenya’s fiscal consolidation would be ineffective if budget cuts are only sustained in development expenditure while the recurrent spending is left to balloon indefinitely.