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Budget pressure hits Treasury as elections shrink House calendar

A planning crisis has gripped State departments in the wake of new Budget timelines as the country heads to a new election calendar.

The elections, traditionally held in December, will now be done in August, throwing government departments into a rush to have their budget estimates ready by March when Parliament is likely to fully engage campaign gear for the polls.

A senior source at the national Treasury, who requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the department, said staff involved in budget making have been under intense pressure owing to the restricted timelines.

“We have been having sleepless nights here because we have so much to do in a short duration. The MPs may not even be available after March to carry out parliamentary procedures needed to have the budget process move on. That means we have to be ready as early as possible. The same applies to all other departments that are required to send us their expenditure requests and any adjustments that may have been necessary,” the source said.

The national Treasury calendar for the 2016/2017 budget process had to be compressed in the available time, piling pressure on one of the most vital steps in Kenya’s economic planning.

Although Parliament may be in session until days before the General Election — as allowed by the Constitution — legislators who spoke to the Sunday Nation said the practicality of having MPs thoroughly debate the Division of Revenue Bill and scrutinise the estimates, even as they seek re-election, may not be realistic.

But Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich dismissed fears that the budget process may face timeline pressures, saying the Constitution allows MPs to be available until the election date.

“We submitted the Budget Policy Statement and the Division of Revenue Bill to Parliament about two weeks ago. We are waiting for approval; then we prepare the estimates. After the estimates are approved, we will prepare the Appropriations Bill. We expect all these processes to be complete at least four or five months before the elections. Under the Constitution, Parliament runs up to election date, unlike in the old constitution where it used to be dissolved 90 days before elections,” said Mr Rotich.

Kenya will also have to consult with East African partner states to synchronise the budget reading date, as is the tradition.

READ: Sh45bn election would be one of the most expensive in Africa

Should Kenya stick to the June date, which is usually the time Uganda and Tanzania present their estimates as well, there will be barely a month to carry out crucial processes that allow legislators to debate proposals, recommend changes and pass the budget.

Parliamentary Accounts Committee chairman Nicholas Gumbo, who is also the Rarieda Member of Parliament, said the budget process will run, but with timeline pressures since elections will be held four months earlier.

“We have already received the Budget Policy Statement and we have noted some issues to be addressed. The process will be completed because we can pass Bills even days before the elections. That is the legal provision, but the practical aspects of it may differ altogether,” Mr Gumbo said.

National Assembly timelines indicate that legislators will be on recess until February 2, further narrowing the available time to deal with the budget estimates.

Besides the thin timelines, analysts say that with the budget coming closer to the election date, high politicking might be the norm as the President seeks re-election in what looks like will be a hotly contested poll.

Budget reading and debate on the Bills concerning it are crucial economic blueprints that guide the country’s economic path throughout the year.

Last year’s budget — dubbed pro-poor, pro-production — did not fully meet the expectations as the government sought to raise more money to build and maintain roads.

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