November 17, 2023, Nairobi, Kenya—President William Ruto's recent State of the Nation address blatantly disregarded constitutional obligations. Regrettably, it was riddled with deceit and fell woefully short of Kenya's expectations. Despite the government's token efforts in fulfilling some promises, the gravity of our nation's challenges was callously ignored in the President's address.
Article 132 (1) of the Constitution mandates the President to address Parliament annually, providing a comprehensive report on the measures taken and progress achieved in realizing national values and principles of governance.
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) raises the following concerns in response to the State of the Nation Address.
- Integrity, transparency and accountability in public finance management
The President talked boastfully about cutting down on wasteful spending, but it's just words! There's a massive gap between what he said and what his regime does with Kenyans money. The Office of the Controller of Budget's report for the second quarter of the 2022-2023 financial year revealed a serious breach of the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act 2012. Picture this: in just three months, from November 2022 to January 2023, ministries, departments, and agencies threw away over Sh3 billion on local trips, Sh2.8 billion on statehouse functions, and another Sh0.88 billion on the Deputy President's office's coordination and supervision. They failed to meet the 70:30 budget spending rule—out of the whopping Sh3.3 trillion budget for the 2022-2023 financial year, only 21.5 percent went to development. This was a letdown!
On top of everything, we've had more than five major corruption scandals and unethical behaviors during this time. From the Sh3.7 billion KEMSA mosquito net scandal to the release of contaminated sugar by KEBS, the former Trade and Industry CS Moses Kuria attacking the media, and scandals with edible oil and NHIF. And let's not forget the recent Sh17 billion fuel importation scandal at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). It’s been an absolute disaster, yet the President's address did not say how he intends to effectively tackle graft. This paints a grim picture for the leadership of this country. Kenyans need to use their power to demand better. We should be ready to kick out leaders with questionable characters and use the courts and other legal tools to deal with this problem.
This regime also attempted to extend the Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) positions, with 50 officials raking in at least Sh780,000 monthly of taxpayers’ money. And that’s not all. The regime succeeded in creating unnecessary roles and offices for the spouses of the Deputy President and the Prime Cabinet Secretary, a reward for the President's allies but a failure in governance and a burden to you, a taxpayer.
If we don't put a lid on this regime’s extravagance, we should forget essential services, a crucial part of devolution. This regime must respect, follow, and defend the rules about managing our money in the Constitution. And the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee (PAC) must step up—keeping the regime in check and making sure they don't play fast and loose with our money should be its priority.
- Human rights and security
In his talk, the President said our freedoms and rights are essential for democracy. He said the whole system should be people-friendly and protect our independence, per the Constitution. To make it happen, he stressed that everyone in charge, like the police and the courts, should be professional, independent, fair, and stick to our national values. But in the past year, things have been the opposite.
Between March and July 2023, the police shot and killed more than 30 people protesting. The President said he'd get rid of a killer police squad, but it came back under his watch. And to make things worse, the President praised the police for acting in a way that's not humane, dignified, and according to the law.
Then there's the President's "mambo ni matatu" line, basically saying he can deal with the so-called cartels however he wants. This goes against the Constitution and hints that he can do whatever he pleases–like influencing court decisions and going after his opponents. That's an abuse of power and a danger for those trying to get justice in cases involving big names and government agencies. Ruto didn't mention these threats in his speech, but we want him to know we haven't forgotten and we're keeping a close eye on him.
- Inclusion and non-discrimination
The President discussed inclusion in his address, citing financial incorporation through the Hustler Fund and expanding the National Youth Service (NYS) enrollment. However, per the Constitution, inclusion must be integrated into governance's political, economic, and social spheres, which this regime has failed. For instance, 50 percent of the President's Executive appointments came from the Gikuyu, Embu, and Meru communities, 30 percent from the Rift Valley region, leaving a mere 20 percent for the rest. This blatant favoritism is not just a betrayal in the face of diversity; it's a recipe for perpetuating ethnic discontent that has plagued our nation. The current cabinet composition falls short of the promised inclusion and threatens to undo any progress in fostering unity among different communities. The President's words on inclusion ring hollow against this backdrop of skewed appointments. He should strictly uphold this critical constitutional value.
- Democracy and participation of the people
Public participation is critical in how the government runs, according to Article 10 of the Constitution. But here's the problem: the President's State of the Nation address didn't mention this crucial value. It makes us wonder, does this regime care about hearing from its citizens? Even though there are laws to involve the public, many obstacles get in the way, including tokenism, insufficient information, political games, and other barriers that stop people from having a real say in decisions that affect them. Here's a clear example: 970 of 1,080 petitions said no to extra taxes in the Finance Bill of 2023. But the regime-friendly lawmakers pushed it through anyway, with the President warning his allies not to go against it. They recently gave the public just a few days to have a say on health-related bills—not enough time for real input. Sadly, this kind of thing is becoming a trend, going against what citizens want. Public participation means letting people have a real say in decisions and policies that affect them. It's a democratic principle that ensures the government listens to all kinds of voices—and this regime should not ignore it.
- High cost of living
In his talk, the President bragged about his government pouring a ton of money into agriculture to make more food and reduce the cost of living. Fertilisers’ prices reduced to Sh2,500 from Sh6,500. Even though this was commendable, many farmers are griping that they can't even get their hands on the fertilizer. And the President didn't say how his administration would fix this.
Additionally, since Ruto took charge, living costs have shot up, and things will get worse. The administration keeps piling on new taxes, squeezing Kenyans so much that many can't pay their debts, lose jobs, and struggle. We can’t breathe because the Ruto regime is choking us with taxes. Fixing the sky-high cost of living requires a serious plan, not punitive levies and taxes. The administration should ditch tax additions, cut out wasteful spending, fight corruption, and put that money where it counts—into things that help the country grow and improve Kenyans lives.
- Odious debt
The Kenya Kwanza regime promised not to borrow more and burden us with extra debt during their campaigns and when they took office. As of September 2022, our public debt hit Sh8.7 trillion, about 69.4 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, nine months after this regime came to power, the debt shot up to Sh10.2 trillion, compared to Sh8.579 trillion in June 2022. That's a whopping Sh1.5 trillion borrowed under President Ruto's watch.
Shockingly, the Controller of Budget in November this year told the National Assembly that taxpayers coughed up Sh1.89 billion as commitment fees for loans that were never even given out. The President didn't even mention this severe breach in public borrowing during his address, raising questions about whether the non-disclosure were deliberate actions by his administration. We need an urgent audit of all the money we owe, inside and outside the country, to ensure the regime uses public resources wisely.
- State of judicial system
At the start of the President's term, there was talk about fixing the justice system for fair law enforcement, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law. Appointing six judges to the Court of Appeal, as the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) suggested, and boosting the Judiciary budget by Sh3 billion was a good move.
But there's a persistent takeover of independent institutions by the Executive, and it's in plain sight. Serious cases against high-profile individuals, including murder, were dropped without a solid reason. Is it just a coincidence that the President's allies who ended up in his cabinet were the first ones benefiting from shady decisions by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP)? When he addressed the nation, why didn't the President come clean about why the people he defended during campaigns, claiming their prosecution was just politics, suddenly walked free when he took power? This regime is doing the opposite of what it promised—they're practicing the very state capture they vowed to stop. It's all a big deception!
- Hustler Fund
The President talked up the achievements of the Hustler Fund, launched on November 30, 2022, aiming to offer affordable credit and boost savings for ordinary Kenyans and small businesses. The President coined some successes that look way bigger than they are, all to make the Fund seem more successful than it is. In reality, many who got loans find it tough to pay them back, showing the need for a serious look at what the program is meant to do and how it's set up to ensure it works well and isn't just about politics. There are also worries about how the data of people applying for the fund is protected. The regime must implement solid policies to keep applicants' information safe, per the Data Protection Act of 2019.
- State of education sector
The Kenya Kwanza regime promised to fix education by creating a team to sort out the problem bedeviling the sector. But the team didn't get its act together for junior secondary school. There are no enough buildings, school resources are coming in late, and teachers aren't getting the training they need.
The new funding for higher education turned things upside down, making parents carry the load that used to be on the government. Now, university and technical courses cost more than expected. Before, government-backed students paid Sh16,000 a year for classes and got a yearly loan of up to Sh60,000. But now, they must cough up an average of Sh650,000 a year, and scholarships are so little to offset the fee.
This change is pushing students to drop out or skip courses altogether. And to top it off, because of technical glitches, only 30 percent of students who should get help applied for government scholarships and loans this year through the Higher Education Fund and Higher Education Loans Board (HELB). Most students have been shut out of higher education.
It gets worse. The Kenya Kwanza regime is blocking students under 18 from getting education loans because they're legally minors. Before, these students could use their parents' details to get the cash. It's a mess. Although the National Assembly stopped implementation of some of these plans, it must ensure that they will never be effected to protect the right to education.
- Breach of Article 132
The President's address was two months late, blatantly violating the constitutional requirement for an annual report. Article 132 (1)(c) explicitly commands that:
"President shall once every year--
(i) report, in an address to the nation, on all the measures taken and the progress achieved in the realisation of the national values, referred to in Article 10;
(ii) publish in the Gazette the details of the measures and progress under sub-paragraph (i); and
(iii) submit a report for debate to the National Assembly on the progress made in fulfilling the international obligations of the Republic."
Kenyans anticipated that the President would uphold his commitment to the rule of law by delivering the address on time. He failed, disregarding the very principles he swore to uphold.
Given all the serious problems mentioned, it's clear that the speech didn't tackle the main issues affecting Kenyans. The current state of the nation is undeniably gloomy and desperate. This regime has set up a weak foundation for governing that won't hold up against the political, social, and economic hits that are sure to come. It's not steering the country towards the transformation we need. Considering all this, we demand that the Kenya Kwanza regime stick to the Constitution. It's the backbone of good governance and the roadmap for Kenya's success.