On budget cuts, Maraga clearly lost the plot

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 07:19 |
Chief Justice David Maraga

By Sabina Akoth       

Austerity measures by nature are meant to limit government spending to control public sector debt especially when the country is in economic jeopardy. Tax revenues are often low during the times and governments’ spending patterns are exposed as frivolous and unsustainable. 

Our current economic situation speaks to this misfortune. The supply of key goods and services within the public sector has been affected by reduced spending. Civil servants will have to do with fewer newspapers in their offices, drink fewer cups of tea and travel less as the government cuts down on spending.

This move has predictably, affected sectors that hitherto, depended on the smooth running of the government’s accounts. Mainstream media for example, might not get as much advertising revenue as it did three years ago, small and medium enterprises that supplied goods and services to government and civil servants may suffer in the mid-term as they look for other profitable markets. Further, certain public services may also be curtailed as the treasury reorganises itself to restore the country’s financial glory. 

The situation has been exacerbated by the thorny interest rates cap. At the time of its inception in 2016 through Parliament and the Central Bank of Kenya, the rate cap was informed by the need for reduced costs of borrowing, better returns on savings and wider access to credit to the public. These gains have, however, not materialised as banks have since shied off from loaning the citizenry and choose to do business with the government. The government is in turn accused of using the monies to repay its debts as opposed to injecting it into the economy. 

Once again, the ripple effect of these guarded transactions are being witnessed at the micro-level where the private sector is unable to sustain its businesses as it lacks the much-needed financial support from creditors. Industries are shutting down, partnerships are not flourishing and families are straining to put meals on the table. It is indeed, a national issue that is cutting across many divides regardless of class or political affiliation. 

In light of the above, it is in bad taste for the Judiciary, Chief Justice David Maraga in particular, to view these tough financial times from a political lens. The Judiciary, like many other public entities, has been affected by the austerity measures. In the last financial year, Treasury clenched—through austerity measures—about Sh131 billion from various State departments to facilitate the realisation of the Big Four agenda. During this period, the Judiciary had asked for a Sh31.2 billion budget. It was however, allocated Sh14.5 billion. 

In a recent public address, however, Maraga intimated that the Judiciary is being unfairly targeted in the budget cuts. He says judicial officers have no money for fuel, for mobile courts or for other projects within its digitisation programmes. 

Then in a sad twist of events, he took to institutional attacks against the Executive and Legislature, stating that there are elements within them that are keen on tainting his image and bringing the Judiciary to its knees. He faulted the whole nation for his grievances, save for his judicial officers and the legal fraternity. Suffice to say, the wisdom in that moment was lost as what Kenyans perceived was loss of control, political maneuvering and a unfavourable sense of entitlement. 

What would have been expected of his office and stature was a sober analysis of the current situation and an abundance of recommendations on how to get us out of this murky fiscal situation. 

Indeed, past observers of the challenges of funding the Judiciary during tough fiscal times have intimated that in such demanding hours, the Judiciary is likely to compete for resources with other pressing dockets such as healthcare, education and security. The judiciary must thus be smooth on how it asserts it independence and educates the public on its need for more resources. 

While the Judiciary is a public institution that is demanding of public capitals, it is vital that it begins to explore alternative sources of funding.  

—The writer comments on socio-political and development matters

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