| 18 April 2024, Thursday |

Kenya cuts budget deficit for the next fiscal year to 4.4%

The government’s budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning next month was reduced by Kenya’s finance minister on Thursday from a projected 5.8% to 4.4%.

More than a dozen MPs from the opposition coalition momentarily leaving the chamber during Njuguna Ndung’u’s budget address caused him to short pause, but he continued by saying that the action will improve debt sustainability.

The East African nation’s total public debt stands at 67% of GDP according to the World Bank, which together with the International Monetary Fund rates the debt as being at a high risk of distress.

“We have moderated our spending to ensure value for money,” Ndung’u said.

The opposition has rejected a raft of tax hikes proposed by President William Ruto’s government, which argues that the pain is necessary to stabilise government finances in the face of growing debt repayments.

The opposition lawmakers who walked out of the budget speech left while shouting, prompting Speaker Moses Wetangula to call out “Order! Order”.

Growth is expected to rebound to 5.5% this year, Ndung’u said, after it was curbed by drought and other shocks last year.

Ruto, who was elected last August on a platform of helping the poor, has vowed to entrench fiscal discipline, including shunning a rapid accumulation of debt.

But his maiden budget has run into controversy after his government moved to double the tax on petroleum products to 16%, introduce a new housing tax of 1.5% for every employee and impose a tax on digital content creators.

“This is the most controversial finance bill I have ever seen,” said Junet Mohamed, the opposition chief whip in the national assembly, and an 11-year veteran of the house, referring to a draft law that accompanies the budget.

The bill sailed through its second reading late on Wednesday and lawmakers are expected to hold a final vote on every provision next week.

The budget also comes against a backdrop of slowing economic activity, persistently high costs of basic commodities like maize flour and a slower than expected revenue collection pace.

“Given this, one would expect a reduction in expenditure, but it is set to increase,” said Nikhil Hira, partner at Kody Africa LLP, a Nairobi-based tax advisory.

  • Reuters