fiscal consolidation

Don’t hold your breath for Kenya’s Fiscal Consolidation

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on July 1, 2018

The budget speech for FY 2018/19 is of interest because desires of government seem to be in opposition. On one hand is the previously articulated intent from government for fiscal consolidation and on the other, the need to finance the Big Four. This article will focus on fiscal consolidation and assess the budget using this lens with a focus on planned expenditure, revenue generation and borrowing. Under fiscal consolidation, expenditure should reduce, revenue generation increase and borrowing reduce.

Budget: Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich

(source: https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/analysis/ideas/-Kenya-fiscal-consolidation/4259414-4640846-wga0eu/index.html)

Already we can see that appetite for increased expenditure continues unabated. Planned total expenditure for the FY 2018/19 is Ksh 2.56 trillion (equivalent to 26.3 percent of GDP). Under the current administration, projected spending has gone up from Ksh 1.6 trillion in 2013/14 to Ksh 2.29 trillion in 2017/18 and now to 2.56 for 2018/19. Clearly, expenditure continues to grow indicating an inability to effect fiscal consolidation measures which are exacerbated by weaknesses in the composition of expenditure. Of planned spending, recurrent expenditure will amount to KES 1.55 trillion, development expenditure is projected at KES 625 billion, and transfers to County Governments will amount to KES 376.4 billion. It seems the element of expenditure that has been cut is the most economically productive, namely development expenditure. Indeed, development expenditure will only be 24 percent of total expenditure (below the 30 percent threshold), recurrent about 60 percent and transfers to county 15 percent. So government seems to be cutting development expenditure while allowing the excesses of recurrent spending to continue. Thus, the government is not leveraging the budget to drive public spending in an economically productive manner.

In terms of revenue generation, the government argues that revenues will rise by 17.5 percent to about KES 1.95 trillion (equivalent to 20 percent of GDP) in the FY 2018/19 from the estimated KES 1.66 trillion collected in the FY 2017/18. Part of the ‘revenue enhancement’ steps include higher corporate tax as well as a tax on the informal economy. What may materialise is not more revenue, but less. Kenya already struggles with high costs of production attributed to high power, transport and labour costs, as well as endemic corruption and rent seeking. These are dynamics that affect both big and small private sector players. Increasing tax on the private sector may well push them to a level where the combined effect of high production costs and higher taxes cut into profits substantially reducing the total government can claim as tax revenue.

Finally, government announced that in the fiscal year ending in June 2018, they estimate a fiscal deficit of 7.2 percent of GDP, down from 9.1 percent of GDP in the previous year. Indeed under, their fiscal consolidation plan, government project the fiscal deficit to narrow to 5.7 percent of GDP in the FY 2018/19 and further to around 3 percent of GDP by FY 2021/22. While this is a step in the right direction, government seems to have a problem in keeping on a disciplined path of fiscal deficit reduction. Last year government’s target for the 2018/19 fiscal deficit was 6 percent, yet here we are at 7.2 percent.

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(source: http://www.theedvantage.org/economics/fiscal-policy)

The fiscal deficit of KES 558.9 billion will be financed by external financing amounting to KES 287.0 billion, while domestic financing will amount to KES 271.9 billion. This clearly indicates that domestic borrowing will be substantial. In the context of an interest rate cap, government knows that continued heavy borrowing in the domestic market squeezes out private sector and places upward pressure on interest rates.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com

Fiscal consolidation opportunity to address private sector issues

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on May 6, 2018

The government seems intent on implementing a course of fiscal consolidation that will put Kenya on a more sustainable fiscal path. While fiscal consolidation is welcome and should be supported, it raises new challenges with which the country has to grapple. The intent of government is to ramp down spending, reduce borrowing, bring down the fiscal deficit and raise revenues. The combination of these factors translates to the reality that government will not be able to finance its new agenda, particularly the Big Four, as robustly as perhaps was initially intended.

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(source: http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/handwriting/f/fiscal-budget.html)

As a result, government has already began calls for the private sector to actively engage in the Big Four. The Budget Policy Statement has made it clear that Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) will be fast tracked in order to fully leverage private sector engagement. However, there are realities of which we ought to be aware as government makes the call to private sector to help realise and frankly, co-finance, the Big Four.

Firstly, over 90 percent of the Kenyan private sector consists of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs). While the presence of the large companies is dominant and well publicised, the reality is that the engine of the economy is run by smaller businesses that sprawl across the formal and informal economy. MSMEs are thought to contribute at least 30 percent to GDP and employ over percent of employed Kenyans. However, MSMEs work in an environment, and have internal firm dynamics, that negatively inform their productivity and economic strength. The fact that they constitute over 90 percent of business in the country yet only contribute about 30 percent to GDP signals serious productivity problems.

Thus, while government intends to pull in the private sector to work on their agenda, they ought to be cognisant of the composition of private sector in the country. I am of the view that MSMEs can be engaged to deliver on government projects, but the nature of the engagement will likely be more involving than government initially envisioned.

Linked to the point above is the issue of the capacity and experience of indigenous firms. Given that foreign firms are angling for Big Four projects, the question of the competitiveness of domestic private sector becomes important. Will government deliberately reserve a portion of projects for indigenous private sector to ensure local participation? If not, does Kenya risk outsourcing the bulk of government projects to foreign companies, and what would be the implications?

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(source: http://kassweekly.co.ke/KW/?p=1021)

Linked to the point above is the issue of PPPs, where it has been widely noted that domestic firms do not have the financing, experience, and enablers that foreign firms do. For example, domestic firms get credit at 14 percent while this figure can be as low as 2 percent for foreign firms; this reduces the former’s competitiveness. Government seeks efficiency in the context of limited funds thus the question becomes how domestic private sector can secure contracts and competitively deliver on them in the context of international competition.

In truth, fiscal consolidation will shine a spotlight on the domestic private sector and the factors that inform their ability and competitiveness. Government and private sector ought to use this opportunity to address key issues decisively, such that the process strengthens the domestic private sector.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com

Three Options for Fiscal Policy

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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

(source: https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/4327964/medRes/1899647/-/maxw/960/-/8ncmewz/-/rotich.jpg)

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.

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(source: https://aarwinsworldoffinance.com/2016/09/fiscal-policy-action-cfa-level-1.html)

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; anzetsew@gmail.com