EDITORIAL: Execution test for goodies in Budget

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The main challenge in executing the new Budget by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich is plugging the deficit in the estimates.

Described variously as balanced and ambitious, the Sh2.6 trillion Budget has a shortfall of Sh524 billion, which has to be met through borrowing, hence the fear of exacerbating the growing debt burden.

Primarily, the government hopes to collect Sh1.7 trillion in revenue and raise other funds through grants.

The issue of borrowing has dominated national debate in recent times because of the concern that the burden is rising at a rate that would not be sustainable for the economy and threatening to surpass the globally acceptable benchmarks.

Another major challenge is corruption and wastage of public resources.

Broadly, the Budget is focused on five areas: Continuing growth and domestic production; reducing income inequality; promoting job creation; simplifying tax administration and enforcing compliance; and enhancing social security and welfare.

It is a mix between raising expenditure for infrastructure development and social sectors, as well as reducing costs for ordinary citizens, while seeking ingenious ways to generate new revenues.

Tax reliefs have been extended to low-income earners and increased levies introduced in growing businesses like betting firms.

The good news, however, is the goodies doled out to the common person, and, in particular, youth, women, the elderly and the disabled.

The minister waved tax on maize and wheat flour and demanded that manufacturers and retailers reduce the cost to benefit the citizens.

Maize meal is a staple food and the tax waiver rightly strikes at the heart of every household.

Similarly, he waived tax on imported maize and wheat flour for the next four months to make them cheaper for the consumers.

However, maize imports are always riddled with intrigues, raising questions as to whether such waivers will benefit the consumer.

Other sweeteners are numerous subsidies to the elderly and disabled, among them a government-funded medical scheme for those above 70 through the National Hospital Insurance Fund, as well as increased funding for free primary and maternal health care.

The emphasis on social services and infrastructure development are intended to improve livelihoods and create a conducive environment for doing business and driving economic growth.

Besides health, education is a major beneficiary. Substantial allocations have been made for free primary education, subsidised secondary education, national examination fees and teacher recruitment.

Youth and women also continue to receive special allocations.

Read with the August elections in mind, the government has increased the allocation to counties to Sh329.3, representing 35 per cent of the last audited accounts.

So far, the Jubilee administration has been accused of stifling devolution through minimalist cash disbursements.

Governors and the Opposition have insisted that the allocation to the counties should be raised to 45 per cent inasmuch as the Constitution stipulates a floor cap of 15 per cent.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the referee expected to deliver a fair and credible poll in August, has been allocated some Sh21.4 billion, which, hopefully, will enable it adequately execute its mandate.

Revolving around the theme of job creation, the real challenge is execution.

However, it is not lost on the public that some major initiatives to benefit groups such as the National Youth Service and Uwezo Funds, as well as large-scale irrigation projects to achieve food security, have been bedevilled with corruption.

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