TV Interview: Reduction of the interest rate

Posted on

I was on CGTN discussing the decision of the Monetary Policy Committee to reduce the Central Bank Rate, in the context of an interest rate cap.


TV Interview: The State of Unemployment in Kenya

Posted on

On March 4, I was part of a TV panel discussing the state of unemployment in Kenya, the concerns, dynamics and recommendations on the way forward.

Three Options for Fiscal Policy

Posted on

This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on March 4, 2018

The Cabinet Secretary of Treasury, Henry Rotich, it putting together the budget for 2018/19, the first in the second era of devolution, being developed in a context where a second Eurobond has been issued and there is growing concern about the sustainability of Kenya’s debt. This is also the first budget in the second and last term for President Kenyatta and thus can give an insight into the type of fiscal legacy the president intends to leave. Fiscal policy over Kenyatta’s first term has been defined by three main features. The first is subpar revenue generation; while revenue generation has been growing, revenue targets are often not met, and revenue is not growing at a rate that can effectively fund expenditure. The second feature is aggressive growth in expenditure where the 2018/19 budget looks to be about KES 2.5 trillion, up from KES 1.6 trillion in 2013/14. This has led to the final feature of fiscal policy which is an expanding appetite for debt. Rotich has three main options for fiscal policy the 2018/19 financial year.

Treasury CS Henry Rotich can change tack and truly implement aggressive austerity measures. file photo | nmg


Firstly, the budget can be more or less what has been done in the past. And if one looks at the February 2018 Budget Policy Statement (BPS), it seems as though this year’s budget will be more of the same. Allocations to dockets are within similar ranges as in the past, expenditure has grown aggressively and the aggressive appetite for debt continues. Should Rotich choose to stick to this fiscal path, concerns over the country debt growth will continue to be voiced as it is precisely this fiscal path that has gotten Kenya to the stage at which we are now.

Secondly however, Rotich can change tact and truly implement aggressive austerity measures in the context of fiscal consolidation where concrete policies are created to reduce government deficits and debt accumulation and results tracked. Several bodies have called for fiscal consolidation and thus it would be prudent for the Treasury to heed that call. The concern with previous budgets is that Treasury asserts that austerity measures will be implemented and spending cut, but budget implementation indicates that this does not actually happen. Rotich has a chance to make significant cuts in unnecessary spending, enforce fiscal discipline, allocate more money to development spending and implement measures to ensure development funds are absorbed.

Image result for fiscal policy


The final path is one where Rotich puts significant funds into President Kenyatta’s Big Four and uses expenditure to finance the sectors of health, industrialisation, housing and agriculture in order to catalyse economic growth, create jobs and reduce poverty. Rotich can present the argument that prudent and disciplined spending targeting the four dockets will put Kenya on a growth path where the country hits the Vision 2030 growth rate of 10 percent. Sadly, however, there is no indication of notable fiscal support to the Big Four in the February BPS. There is a section dedicated to the Big Four in the BPS but if one takes a close look at allocations, one finds no difference in allocation patterns that would indicate that the fiscal process is focused on the Big Four.

In short, the budget for 2018/19 will set the tone of fiscal policy making for the next four years and let Kenyans and the world know, the extent to which government will leverage fiscal policy to put the country on a dynamic growth path that is fiscally sustainable and catalytic.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;


Tax compliance must go beyond the mandate of the Kenya Revenue Authority

Posted on

This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on February 25, 2018

A key concern for the government at the moment is how to generate and collect more revenue in order to more effectively fund expenditure and reduce the need for debt. Kenya, like much of Africa, struggles with revenue generation and collection. Indeed reports indicate that the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) is likely to miss its revenue targets in the current financial year. According to the Brookings Institution, average tax revenues stand at about 15 percent of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with 24 percent in OECD countries. Government has made it clear that it seeks to generate and collect more revenue, but there are several factors that inform whether individuals and firms are willing to be tax compliant.

Image result for taxes


Research on tax compliance attitudes in the Afrobarometer journal found that there are several factors that inform tax compliance. The first is that if individuals perceive that it is difficult to evade tax, they are more likely to have a tax compliant attitude. Secondly, individuals who are more satisfied with public service provisions are more likely to have a tax compliant attitude. Thirdly, frequent payment to non-state actors, such as criminal gangs, in exchange for protection, reduces the likelihood of having a tax compliant attitude. Fourthly, there is indication that individuals who perceive that their ethnic group is treated unfairly by the government are less likely to have a tax compliant attitude.  I would add a final factor where if individuals feel government misuses or embezzles public finances, it reduces the likelihood of tax compliant attitudes.

Kenya struggles with all the factors above. First, it is relatively easy to evade tax in Kenya; reports indicate that an audit of the accounts of multinational companies revealed that Kenya lost USD 350 million in three years through tax evasion. Secondly, Kenyans are not satisfied with the provision of public services and are disgruntled by the fact that despite paying taxes, they do not seem to accrue the benefits associated with compliance.

Thirdly, Kenya businesses are often forced to make onerous payments to both state and non-state actors in exchange for the license to continue their business activity.  Both formal and informal businesses complain of harassment, even by government officials, for bribes. Making such payments negatively informs the willingness to be tax compliant as such out of pocket payments are an illegal and unjust expense. Fourthly, given the levels of tribalism in the country, it is feasible that some Kenyans may be less willing to be tax compliant because they are of the view that they are treated unfairly by government.

Image result for bribe


Finally, when Kenyans hear of billions of shillings ‘going missing’ and being misappropriated, many see no point in paying tax as they are of the view that they will not benefit from tax compliance since their money will be ‘eaten’ by a government official rather than be of benefit to them.

Thus, if government seeks to engender long-term tax compliance in Kenya, these issues must be addressed. Kenyans must be satisfied with public service provision, state actors must stop demanding bribes from businesses, government needs to demonstrate that it is the government of all Kenyans regardless of tribe and the embezzlement of public funds must be addressed.

The mandate of encouraging tax compliance is not one that can be saddled on the KRA alone. This is an effort that must be pursued across all of government at both national and county levels.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;

Time to Catalyse Micro and Small Enterprise

Posted on

This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on February 18, 2018

The informal economy consists of micro and small enterprises (MSEs) that are the source of income for 90 percent of employed Kenyans as well as an important economic engine of the country. Indeed, late last year, the Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge credited small businesses with keeping the economy afloat terming them the backbone of the economy’s resilience in a difficult year.

Despite their importance, MSEs are neglected and economically under-leveraged. The first step to directing MSEs towards optimal performance and strengthened growth is data collection. There is currently no single repository with detailed information on the number, size, geographical footprint, sector composition of MSEs and MSE associations in the country. There should be a drive to register all MSEs and collect data through the registration process. What must be made clear during the registration process is that it will not be used to tax MSEs. If a sense develops that the aim of registration is to put businesses into the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) database for taxation purposes, MSEs will not show up for the exercise. Registration ought to be incentivised such that it is linked to financial and non-financial support organised and deployed by government. Indeed, only registered MSEs should be allowed to qualify for government support.

A Jua Kali artisan. Despite their importance, small businesses are neglected by the government. file PHOTO | NMG


The second stage is to develop a fund focused on MSEs; this could fall under the Biashara bank that is being developed by government. The main point is that there should be a facility focused on MSEs. MSE sector organisations and associations should be represented on the board of the fund such that the needs and priorities of the sector inform how the funding is structured and deployed. Through working with MSE sector leaders, the process of developing criteria for qualification of financing can begin such that funds are absorbed and effectively used. Government ought to learn from the challenges faced in the Uwezo, Women and Youth Funds such that the same mistakes are not repeated. Further, there is a need to classify the MSEs such that they align with the Big Four and prepare them to benefit from initiatives in the Big Four sectors of health, manufacturing, agriculture and housing.

A reality that ought to be considered is that there will likely be early stage MSEs that are not ready for debt financing and have to be graduated from grant financing into debt. The financial packages deployed thus can consist of grant and debt as well a blend of both. The crucial element is that financing alone will not suffice. There ought to be deliberate coordination between financial and non-financial interventions such that support sophisticates as MSEs graduate into mainstream debt.

Image result for business financing


The bouquet of support linked to financing should include technical training which trains MSEs on up-to-date technical skills of the sector; technology upgrades that modernise technology used by MSEs and train them on their use; and physical Infrastructure upgrades that improve the physical locations in which MSEs operate including ensuring access to water and sanitation facilities as well as electricity. Finally, MSEs should be trained in basic business management training to help them better manage and plan for their business growth and possible expansion. This training must be partnered with business mentorship such that training and upgrades are effectively used.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;


TV Interview: Is President Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four’ supported by the proposed Budget?

Posted on Updated on

On February 11, 2018, I was part of a panel discussing President Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four’ Priority Agenda

Key Concerns with Kenya’s New Eurobond Issue

Posted on Updated on

This article first appeared in the Business Daily on February 13, 2018

The Government of Kenya has announced that it intends to issue a new Eurobond of between USD 1.5 to 3 billion mainly to retire key debts that consist of USD 750 million for the first Eurobond as well as a USD 800 million syndicated loan. There are key concerns with a new Eurobond being issued by the government at this time.

The first issue is Kenya’s current debt status; our current debt to GDP ratio stands at about 60 percent. Please bear in mind that just over five years ago, this figure was around 40 percent. It is important to note that while debt in itself it not objectionable, the use of the debt is important. Given concerns with the financial management record of the Kenyan government at both national and county levels, any new debt issued ought to be scrutinised.

Image result for debt


This links to the second point; debt sustainability. Kenya’s debt stood at KES 4.48 trillion as of September 2017. Several entities have expressed concern with Kenya’s debt status; the World Bank made the point that a rapid build-up of public debt in the past few years has put the Kenyan economy at the risk of turbulence adding that borrowing to finance infrastructure projects should be balanced with the dire risks of over-borrowing. The African Development Bank made the point that Kenya could struggle to meet its public debt obligations as more long-term loans mature and the IMF stated that the rising public debt is a concern that needs to be checked to avoid any shocks to the economy in the future.

Thirdly, these are not the only voices with concern; Kenya’s current debt portfolio has made credit rating agencies anxious. Kenya’s debt generally sits in the ‘high speculative’ space in credit rating, one tranche above the ‘substantial risks’ tranche. Indeed, Moody’s expects the government debt burden to continue rising due to high budget deficits and interest payments. Moody’s is concerned by Kenya’s debt accumulation rate and has started considering Kenya for a downgrade. A downgrade in national credit rating would make it difficult for Kenya to access cheap funds from international markets- yet here is Kenya trying to issue a new Eurobond.

Some argue that despite current credit rating, the fact that Fitch shifted Kenya’s rating from ‘negative’ to ‘stable’, Kenya’s overall rating should be viewed positively, especially in the African context. But the view here is that, if Kenya expects to issue Eurobonds affordably, every effort should be made to improve credit ratings. Yet such effort is not being made in that direction.

Image result for credit rating


Indeed, over the past 5 years, three key trends in the fiscal policy of the current administration have been made evident: Expenditure is higher than anticipated than in the Budget Policy Statement (BPS); revenue generation targets are generally not met and thus, borrowing is higher than expected in the BPS. Bear in mind that the Eurobond and concerns by international finance institutions as well as credit rating agencies are not the only point of concern as these understate the presence of a very important creditor; China. As of September 2017, Kenya’s debt to China was the highest of any nation, and stood at USD 4.7 billion; two thirds of Kenya’s bilateral debt.

In addition to the factors elucidated above, it is important to note that Kenya’s bond issuance this year is operating in a very different context than that in which the first bond was issued. During the first bond issuance, interest rates in Europe and North American were very depressed with weak economic growth, and Africa was riding on a commodities boom, which made the continent a bright spot in the global economy. At that time, yield hunters turned to Africa as a key income growth market to viably compensate for subpar growth in other parts of their portfolios.

Since then, the commodities bust occurred which crippled key African economies, there is notable recovery in Europe and North America, and Africa is, once again, viewed with scepticism in global markets. When one adds Kenya’s debt warnings and credit rating status to the picture, it is easy to see the concern being raised here about the prudence and affordability of a new Eurobond issue.

Image result for eurobond


Further, if one looks at the current Eurobond objectively, while it is true that in January 2018 the bond yields stood at 3.7 and 5.5, the country has paid far more in the past. Around 2015, the opposition party in Kenya raised concerns about how the first Eurobond was being used and alleged embezzlement. The allegations and speculation during this time drove Eurobond yields up to 9.4 percent. Thus, while the government Eurobond currently enjoys relatively low yields, domestic dynamics could change the context quite quickly raising issues about the affordability and sustainability of Eurobond debt once more.

The final concern with the current Eurobond issue is that it will saddle the country with substantial future debt. It seems as though, through the new Eurobond issue, the current administration is pushing debt maturity to 2024, when it will no longer be their headache to address. Well aware that their tenure ends in 2022, it is fair to ask whether the current administration is pushing debt repayment to a point beyond their tenure.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;