BOI: The new government books policy: Cart before Horse?
The level of economic growth for any country will always be tied to public and private expenditure and as such, failure to exhaustively and concretely spend the budgeted money, as it were, directly affects the rate at which the economy will expand.
This is certainly not new in Kenya and it is never sporadic, rather it happens every year.
The budget’s steady growth from 2005-2006 financial year where it read at Sh. 508 billion to this 2017-2018 budget of sh. 2.6 trillion looks all rosy until one takes a moment to look at how the money is spent or to be more particular not spent.
Referred as the absorption rate, the government manages to spend an average of 50 percent of its budget indicating under utilization of the funds.
More often than not, the national government through the national treasury has been castigated and made to partly share the blame for the low absorption of the funds in the budget at the national, county and constituency levels.
This has been noted to be manifested in the perennial delay in the release of funds to the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
The undue delay in the financial disbursements slows down the implementation of projects, policies and programmes while contributing to the increase of the overhead costs in those sectors.
Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of things, the slowdown and lethargy noted in the economic expansion and development towards seamless operations in various sectors has also been eminently propagated by another pervasive manipulation which is corruption.
This is a phenomenon that has managed to raise its ugly head in almost every state department and ministry.
While funds from taxpayers have been appropriated to accomplish tasks in given sectors within particular timelines, individuals in these public sectors have always found ways to slyly misuse the funds and run away from accountability.
The Ministry of Education is the latest to combat this challenge with regard to the distribution of books to schools which has been the role being played by school heads in collaboration with the licensed book publishers and sellers.
It is ridiculous to try to contemplate the amount of public funds that have been lost through the current process of procuring the purchase of books for schools.
The problem is whether the Cabinet Secretary has managed to cut the vice underlying the loss of funds by the root or it shall be yet another scandalous scheme down the line.
On the flipside, it is hoped that new process of direct procurement of school reading materials from the publishers and delivered into the schools, should be able to save the economy a lot of leakages.
Studies into the extent of the manifestation of the apparent wastage of funds by the UNESCO, the EACC and the Kenya Publishers Association as directed by the ministry earlier last year, established that the government loses Sh. 6.5 billion every year under the current model.
This week, the CS pointed out that the ministry should be able to spend Sh. 7.5 billion to make the supplies instead of the Sh. 21.4 billion that it costs the ministry to save about Sh. 13.9 billion. It is certainly a noble cause and should be able to allow the funds to be channeled into other crippled quarters of the ministry such as building of proper learning facilities and hiring more teachers in some schools in parts of the country that do not have plausible student to teacher ratio.
Coming to terms with this misappropriation of funds, the damage that has been caused is tremendous. Some schools in parts of this country seem not to be recognized by the government whereas they are government schools.
They not only lack books but also tutors and appropriate and inadequate learning facilities such as classrooms and laboratory equipment and it is dismal and sad to see that the future of young children is sabotaged by greedy and imprudent people meant and entrusted with the role of helping secure it for them.
Reports assert that had the method of supplying books to schools been secure, the 1:1 student to book ratio could have been achieved instead of the current way off ratio of 5:1.
There is certainly a deeply-rooted affinity and propensity to misuse funds in this ministry that we possibly know or can envisage and more deliberate efforts to probe for more leakages will come in handy.
In addition, the book selling and publishing firms seem to be stealthily moving into the forbidden realms of engaging in cartels and corrupt practices.
Whereas there were enormous complaints in the early years of the 8-4-4 system when the government created a monopoly where only state publishers –Kenya Literature Bureau (KLB) and Jomo Kenyatta Foundation (JKF), the current multiple publishers are good for exercise of choice and nurturing quality output but need closer regulation.
While Kenya now ostensibly follows the Rwandan model where publishers deliver books directly to schools, it becomes imperative to contemplate on the pricing of the books that are in supply in the market.
The current use of commercial distributors to deliver books to schools has pushed the cost per unit text book to about 50 % higher, making Kenya to have average price of books come to 2.5% times more expensive than those in other African countries such as Madagascar according to recent reports. Going into the future, instilling sanity in this sector will also determine the level to which the ministry will achieve the new system of making distribution of the books to schools.
The education sector is a crucial segment that should be given moral support for all the noble causes. As it were, it is grappling with corrupt officials, a vice that has is persistent and prevalent across the public sector. When funds are used well as allocated, then we achieve the noble causes. In the current budgetary allocations, 2017/2018, where Ksh. 21.8 billion and Ksh. 34.7 billion have been set aside for the free primary and secondary schools education respectively, the inadequacy in some quarters of the Education sector is evident.
School feeding programmes allocated Ksh 2.5 billion, which includes resources from donors is a far cry from the Ksh 4.5 billion requirement. If funds are being wasted in some areas of the ministry then the deficient areas are well-known.
While the step taken by the ministry to supply books to schools to save taxpayer funds is prudent, together as a country, we have the responsibility to ensure that corruption does not defile the new avenue as well. Otherwise we might find ourselves in the same round of predicament in the near future.