How come all these grand visions sound the same?

Story by JAINDI KISERO Publication Date: 2007/05/09

THE SEASON FOR VISIONS and mission statements is here. As a regular commentator on economic issues, I find the policy statements the presidential candidates have put out to be too predictable and boring.

I am yet to hear anything radical. These people are all from the same school and ideological orientation: it is all about tax-and-spend trickle-down economics of the free market.
You will not hear of ideas that can stir the heart and inspire citizens to move in one direction.
I have read the vision statements by Mr William Ruto, Mr Raila Odinga, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka and President Kibaki’s Vision 2030, and my conclusion is this: In terms of new ideas and radical policies, our politicians are people of modest ambition.

Kenyan politics has become a narrow contest for the middle ground, with all presidential candidates struggling to occupy the centre and to look moderate.

And, it is not modesty in ambition alone. Our society suffers from a culture of low expectations.
That is why we will fall over one another celebrating a 6 per cent growth rate despite the fact that the growth being celebrated is taking place in the context of rising crime, dilapidated roads, mushrooming slums and unreliable and expensive electricity supply.

Our leaders do not want to be radical because we have set our standards so low that even a modest policy intervention such as Mr John Michuki’s seat-belts is celebrated as a major achievement even when we know very well that what the minister did amounted to no more than tinkering with a deeply entrenched problem, and that the police have neither the capacity nor the orientation to enforce it.

I have even heard somebody say that we should give City Mayor Dick Wathika a medal for planting flowers in the major roundabouts! Our political values have got so debased that while no courage is required to do the wrong thing, a great deal of courage is needed to do the right thing.

Have we forgotten that this is an economy that used to grow by an average of 6.6 per cent between 1970 and 1969? And this, before Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o and company came around town and changed the formula for calculating growth statistics in this economy.
If you calculated the growth that took place in this period using Nyong’o’s formula, you will realise that the citizens of this country should not be falling over one another celebrating the 6 per cent growth rate projected for this year.

This country has what it takes to grow at a much higher rate. It is something we have done before.

IN ALL HONESTY, THE KIBAKI administration has given the country a kick-start towards a new growth path. But it is also clear that the model the government has followed, and which all the aspiring presidential candidates are promising to maintain and pursue, has proved incapable of radically addressing the social problems that continue bedevil the country.

These include severe unemployment, rising urban crime and an explosion of disorganised and unregulated businesses matatus, hawkers, and even Mungiki.

Simply stated, the message coming through from the vision statements by the candidates is this: I will collect as much tax as possible and then throw the money at all your problems - free secondary school education, roads, health insurance and higher.

In the contemporary parlance of macro-economists, the new catchphrase is “fiscal space” the politically-correct term for describing affordability.

The pertinent question to ask these people who are promising us heaven is, therefore, this: where will the fiscal space to accommodate what they are promising come from?
It is all to do with a mindset among the political elite that the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has all the money and that the authority is collecting more billions than ever before that need to be spent. Haven’t we heard our ministers bragging that KRA is now collecting so much that we don’t even need money from donors?

Tax collection in this country has increased exponentially. But this is only one side of the coin. What the politicians don’t tell you is that the success in tax collection has not stopped the Government borrowing massively in the domestic market where it continues to crowd out the private sector from credit.

This hyperbolic talk about inexhaustible tax revenues has done a great deal of harm. Is it a good or bad thing that the aspiring presidential aspirants seem to be reading from the same script in terms of policy and programmes?

That may be debatable. But what can you say of a society where there are no differences on how a country should be run? Isn’t it amazing that the contest for the presidency has ceased to be about the direction society should go?

With all the candidates preaching constitutional reform, low inflation, low budget deficits and higher budgetary allocations for roads, health, free secondary school education and medical insurance for informal sector workers, there will be no choice between the political programmes on offer.

Mr Kisero is the managing editor, The EastAfrican

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