In an opinion piece in the Saturday Nation of March 29, 2014, Who is fooling who in row over wage bill? respected Kenyan economist David Ndii questions the figures issued by the government with regard to the public wage bill debate. The President had indicated that we are now spending 13 per cent of our GDP on public pay against, we are told, an ideal of seven per cent. The President is reported as having projected the wage bill rising to 13 per cent of GDP or 55 per cent of total tax revenue. Quoting figures published by the government in the Budget Policy Statement 2014, the most recent and arguably the most authoritative data, he notes that the government wage bill is Kes 285 billion up from Kes 274 billion in the last financial year and it is projected to rise to Kes 296 billion next year. In relative terms therefore, the wage bill declined from 7.5 to 6.8 per cent of GDP, and is projected to decline further to 6.4 per cent of GDP in the next financial year. Ndii concludes by raising a number of governance questions the most portent of which is that if indeed the wage bill is 13 per cent of GDP, why would the Treasury to withhold this information from Parliament and the public by publishing a figure of seven per cent in the Budget Policy Statement?
In an unexpected move, Anne Waiguru, Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning,responded to what she terms ‘provocative and inaccurate comments by David Ndii’ which she states cannot go unchallenged in an article The untruths in David Ndii’s wage bill article. She challenged Ndii’s article as containing many unsubstantiated insinuations, factual inaccuracies and outright distortions which she feels ‘that Kenyans must be made aware of, so that we can proceed rationally with the national debate on this important subject.’ She further notes that her statement is ‘concerned with refuting such untruths rather than the anti-government propaganda warfare which the author seems so keen to wage.’ She proceeds to provide her own figures to support the position of the government and then dismisses Ndii’s article as having been taken from a policy paper he co-authored with Harris Mule and Prof Terry Ryan more than a decade ago. She assures Kenyans that the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, and the Government as a whole mean every word they say, and that they are committed to enhancing the public service delivery experience of every Kenyan by guaranteeing efficient, effective and citizen centric public service delivery. Unfortunately, she fails to address herself to the issue of the Budget Policy Statement 2014 raised by Dr. Ndii.
It will be interesting to see how this debate unfolds.
In the meantime, in a widely published article, former KNC Presidential candidate, Peter Kenneth takes a more practical approach arguing that what is important is for government to improve its human resource management system in order to eliminate ghost workers and rationalisation of roles to avoid duplication. He advocated for fiscal discipline cautioning that if the government is committed to reducing the ever rising recurrent expenditure, it must take a much broader approach and not just restrict itself to a reduction of the public wage bill. He included travel costs of government officials, the costs of transport for government (both the consumption and maintenance of the vehicles) and the poorly designed, costly and badly managed public procurement system on the list of issues that need to be addressed.