Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta focused on his re-election in the State of the Nation address, highlighting key achievements of his administration over the past four years.
The Constitution requires that, in this address, the president tells parliament the country’s progress in achieving national unity, participation of the public in decision making, equality, justice, rule of law, protection of marginalised communities and security threats to the nation.
Indeed, one of the opening statements of his address was: “It is my pleasure, therefore, to lay before this joint sitting of parliament, pursuant to Articles 10, 132 and 240 of the Constitution of Kenya, reports regarding the state of our national security; measures taken and progress achieved in the realisation of national values; and, to the National Assembly, a report on the progress made in fulfilling our international obligations.
However, his speech centred on key infrastructural projects, among them the standard gauge railway, roads, economic growth, allocation of more resources to county governments, security and progress made in provision of health care. He also defended the country’s high debt, saying it had gone towards financing “the most aggressive development agenda witnessed in Kenya’s history.”
“We have kept our promise in ensuring that we have developed the country, to establish a base for rapid growth, sustainable shared prosperity and job creation,” said President Kenyatta.
The opposition poked holes in the president’s scorecard, claiming the country’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Cord leader Raila Odinga noted that the country’s public debt level was not sustainable, promising to address the nation this week when he returns to the country.
“It is clear that the government is lost and struggling, just when we thought the government has the roadmap. Such is our fate as a nation. The task ahead indeed looks herculean, and indeed it is. The future may look bleak,” said Mr Odinga.
President Kenyatta’s speech was delivered in the wake of major challenges that have threatened his administration, among them wanton corruption, the sky-rocketing cost of living and a devastating drought that has left millions in need of food assistance. Critics said the Jubilee administration has failed to address the glaring gender imbalance in political representation.
On corruption, which the opposition accuses Jubilee government of abetting to unprecedented levels since Independence in 1963, the president said that the Director of Public Prosecution has created an Economic Crimes Unit of the High Court and appointed 90 special prosecutors and 13 magistrates.
He also said that the government has kept its 2013 promise which bars corrupt persons from doing business with the government and that the Asset Recovery Agency so far has $28 million of which will be invested in social programmes in a transparent and accountable manner.
In its manifesto, Jubilee had promised to cut wastage in government and fight corruption by giving the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) the power to prosecute corruption cases as happens in other African countries. The party also promised to ban anyone convicted on corruption charges from working in government, in any public sector job.
The opposition also disputes the president’s assertion that his government has increased connectivity to electricity to 3.7 million new households, stocked 92 hospitals with dialysis machines as opposed to four in 2013, and extended free health care to 1.2 million expectant mothers by the end of 2016.
But in his defence, the president said in fact the country’s wage bill is the main threat to development, calling upon parliament to support a proposal by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to slash salaries and allowances of all state and public officers.
“As politicians, we must accept that our ever increasing salaries and allowances have contributed to the unsustainable demands by other cadres within the public sector to increase their own remuneration at the expense of our people and the country’s development agenda,” said President Kenyatta.
On security, he said that the government has built a well-coordinated multi-agency approach to ensure public safety and security. “We have invested in better equipment, training, and working tools, to fight terrorism and radicalisation of the youth.
“This achievement takes on even greater significance as the world learns that we are one of the few, if not the only country that has expanded its civil liberties while on the frontlines of fighting terrorism,” he said.
However, the government continues to apply Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014 that has largely been blamed for infringing on privacy and curtailing freedom of the press.
On devolved government, the president said that his administration is championing devolution by making timely transfer of funds, far above the constitutional threshold, and with the smooth implementation of the transfer of functions, a welcome economic dynamism has emerged in the counties.
However, the Council of Governors has often complained that the funds are not disbursed on time to allow absorption and that Treasury hoards funds that are meant for devolved functions.
Ndung’u Wainaina, the executive director International Centre for Policy and Conflict-ICPC, says that the national government has not strengthened the devolved system of government in the past four years because it has successfully, through the National Assembly, been pushing legislative and administrative processes that subvert devolved functions.
“They include the Water Act 2016, The National Drought Management Act 2016, the Land Laws (Amendment) Act 2016, the Community Land Act 2016, Roads Reclassification Act among other unconstitutional laws that courts have revoked,” he said.
Among the key achievements, the president said that the Jubilee government has built 1,900km of new roads while 7,000km are underway. But Mr Odinga disputes this saying that this would mean that the government has built 20 roads similar to the 500km Mombasa-Busia highway.