President William Ruto on Monday took on the opposition over alleged incitement against state programmes, as he outlined plans to address the high cost of living.
In the wake of an onslaught by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga, coupled with threats of mass action over failure by the government to reduce prices of basic commodities, the Head of State reiterated his commitment to ensuring Kenyans put food on the table.
Addressing the 59th Jamhuri Day celebrations held at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi, the President announced a three-phase approach to tackling the high cost of living. The first phase involves ensuring farmers get access to affordable fertilisers to enhance their productivity.
“Our second agenda is that we are going to import 10 million bags of different assorted types of food, including maize, so that we can close the gap temporarily because of the harvest that was limited in this year’s agricultural season occasioned by climate change and failure of rain,” President Ruto said.
The third intervention is the importation by government and the private sector of 300,000 tonnes (six million bags) of fertiliser before the next planting season. A consignment of two million bags of fertiliser has already landed at the port of Mombasa, he said.
Four million bags
The remaining four million bags will arrive in the first week of January, in time for the long rains. The government will continue to subsidise the price of fertiliser and farmers will buy it at Sh3,500 a bag.
Mr Odinga, the opposition chief, had given the President a New Year’s Day ultimatum to address the high cost of living.
During an opposition rally at Nairobi’s Kamukunji grounds last week, Mr Odinga outlined nine key issues that he said must be addressed to ease the economic burden on Kenyans, failure to which citizens would apply their sovereign powers to engage the government directly through public protests and civil disobedience.
The Orange Democratic Movement leader called on the President to, among other things, restore flour, fuel, school fees and electricity subsidies by 2023, restore and enhance cash transfer to the elderly and vulnerable, enhance the Linda Mama programme to protect pregnant mothers and institute discipline, order and clarity in Cabinet ministers’ policy declarations.
The Head of State remained bullish, insisting he was in charge and would deliver on all his campaign pledges. He told opposition leaders to be civil and not to incite the public.
Specifically, he lashed out at the opposition over attempts to derail the government’s Hustler Fund programme, which, he said is a noble cause to save Kenyans from predatory interest rates charged by shylocks.
“In a record 12 days, today, the Hustler Fund has a record 15.4 million subscribers and has lent out Sh7.54 billion ,” he said.
The Hustler Fund, he noted, has accumulated savings of close to Sh400 million in 12 days and was “well on track to [reach] a billion shillings in the next few days … that’s what the Hustler Fund has achieved and, so far, Sh1.2 billion has been repaid”.
“It is clear that, under this programme, that Kenyans have found a platform to save. Clearly, Kenyans know the value of borrowing and paying, contrary to the rhetoric of sceptics.”
“By all accounts, this is revolutionary,” he added. “Let me say, for the record, and ask fellow leaders; my good friends, you are borrowing your mortgage at three per cent. You have the capacity to borrow from banks at 14 per cent, why do you want to derail the hustlers who today are suffering from shylocks and predatory lenders and are being charged 360 per cent?”
He said it was wrong for some leaders to tell Kenyans not to repay the Hustler Fund, which is charging only eight per cent.
“Be humane, be kind and please allow the people borrowing the Hustler Fund to also enjoy low interest rates the way you and your families are enjoying,” the President said.
Azimio leaders had urged Kenyans to borrow the money and not to repay, insisting that, during the campaigns, the President promised that it would not attract any interest.
“Kenyans are living in a country badly hit by the high cost of living. Our youth have already lost the opportunity on Kazi Mtaani programme, while the government has already eliminated subsidy on basic commodities.”
“Giving Sh500 through the Hustler Fund programme and asking them to repay is not tenable. Take that money and do not repay because it is your tax,” Mr Odinga said. The President said that, by boosting agricultural production, the country will be food secure.
“We have identified 100 dams in various parts of the country to double the land under irrigation from the current 670,000 acres, and progressively increase it to three million acres.”
Through a sound and innovative policy framework, efficient infrastructure and climate-change mitigation mechanisms, Dr Ruto said, the government could uplift the well-being of all Kenyans.
The government will also invest in the clothing and textile industry to revive cotton production.
“We are determined to bring back the forgotten smiles of cotton farmers. This will inject billions of shillings to arouse the sleeping giant of Kenya’s industrial and agricultural competitiveness,” said the President.
The government, he said, continues to push to intensify national connectivity through road, rail and fibre-optic infrastructure to support production and innovation in every part of the country.
“We are finalising a framework for centralisation of resources to deal with all stalled infrastructure projects,” he said
To combat the effects of climate change, “we have commenced our plan to grow 15 billion trees on 11 million hectares in every part of Kenya by 2030 to increase the national tree cover from the current 12 per cent to 30 per cent.
The President also announced that, before the end of the year, he will appoint a task force to review the terms of the police service.
“… we have engaged to successfully re-orient policing operations from a heavy and illegitimate reliance on illegal and extra-judicial interventions, which frequently entail such intolerable violations as abduction, torture, disappearance and murder.”
“There is now consensus that a new policing paradigm is at hand, and it is possible to achieve a high level of security for our citizens and also observe their rights and freedoms to the greatest extent.”
President Ruto was accompanied by his wife Rachel, deputy Rigathi Gachagua, Chief Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and a host of other dignitaries from tech communities.
Mr Gachagua said the country has made considerable progress in the tech race.
“We celebrate our young people who have continued to make us proud in this space.”
“We encourage them to move with greater speed and dominate not only regionally, but also globally just as we have done in athletics,” the DP said.