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Kenyan Educators, Economists Happy With Government's First Budget Proposal - 2003-06-13

Kenyan educators and economists are happy with the increased education funding and reduced value added tax contained in the first budget prepared by the National Rainbow Coalition [NARC] government.

The government says it will more than triple spending on primary education to the equivalent of $123 million. The goal is to implement the ruling coalition's campaign promise to provide free education for all Kenyan children.

Under the old system, many people could not afford to send their children to primary school.

The coordinator of a coalition of education organizations, Andiwo Obondoh, welcomed the government's education budget.

"It reconfirms the government's commitment to the fundamental right of Kenyan children to access education," he said.

Mr. Obondoh said, when the government came to power in January, three million of a total of approximately 10 million Kenyan children of primary school age were not actually going to school. In the last few months, 1.5 million of them have started school. The remaining 1.5 million are, at least for now, in an informal school system used by the poorest families.

Mr. Obondoh says it is too early to determine whether the education budget is enough to cover all the costs of expanding the existing facilities, and does not even begin to address the needs of the children who are in the informal system.

Meanwhile, Kenyan consumers will be paying less for their purchases, thanks to a two percent decrease in the country's Value Added Tax. The VAT has been reduced from 18 percent to 16 percent.

Economics consultant Otieno Mutula calls the VAT decrease a relief for consumers.

"We, as a country, are moving in the right direction," he said. "I think the government is recognizing that this country, we are overburdened with taxes. I am looking at the future very positively."

But Mr. Mutula also warns the measure will only help those who can afford to go to the supermarket.

He also says that tax increases on beer, airtime for mobile phones, and other items will make up for the two-percent drop in VAT.

Announcing the budget on Thursday, Kenyan Finance Minister David Mwiraria said it is the first of many steps to fix what he called the "financial mess" of the previous government, while improving services for Kenyans and reducing the country's poverty.