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Another fuel price rise looms

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By EDWIN OKOTH
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The Energy Regulatory Commission is staring at a deep dilemma Friday as it readies to announce new pump prices amid the controversy over the 16 per cent value added tax on petroleum products.

With the rise in international crude prices last month and the VAT still in limbo but in force, the regulator may not have good news for Kenyans.

ERC’s pricing Friday is clouded in uncertainty with a contempt proceeding on its doorstep for failing to respect a Bungoma High Court order by Justice Stephen Riech quashing the implementation of the 16 per cent levy on petroleum products to enable the President to either assent to or reject the amended Finance Bill passed by the National Assembly.

The dilemma is heightened by the silence from State House with the long wait for President Uhuru Kenyatta who had been out of the country when the VAT kicked in and whose signature the court battle is pegged on.

ODM leader Raila Odinga had even assured the public on September 3 that the president would sign into law the amendments to the 16 per cent VAT on petroleum products passed by Parliament.

Wednesday, government spokesperson Erick Kiraithe’s newspaper commentary that the president is yet to receive the bill pushing the tax by two years paints an even grimmer picture over the fuel tax stalemate.

In Kisumu, ERC sent lawyers in court in a bid to push for the setting aside of the court order, an odd scenario since the regulator has always insisted on not having been served by the same orders they are seeking to squash.

“The matter is coming up for further directions on Monday but for us we are puzzled by how a government agency can disobey a court order and then come before court to try and set it aside. They ought to have complied first, that is the law,” Lawyer Ken Ken Amondi, of Amondi and Company Advocates who represented the Sumawe Youth Group in the case told Nation.

Another oddity facing Friday’s price revisions is the increasing costs for crude oil through the month of August which will be key in determining the pump prices since landed cost is a key component of the monthly price revisions.

The crude oil prices have been on the rise from a low of $75 per barrel at the beginning of the month to yesterday’s high of $79.4 per barrel (according to Brett crude data), meaning ERC may be forced to raise the prices amid foul public mood over the VAT.

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ERC uses the Platts data on the price of Brett crude as the benchmark for international oil prices.

 Before the VAT was loaded on September 1, ERC had announced a Sh1.53 rise on the price of super petrol which was retailing at Sh113.73 before the VAT later pushed it to Sh128.8 two weeks ago. The price of diesel which had fallen slightly to Sh102.74 per litre in Nairobi now retails at Sh115.08 in Nairobi.

Should ERC announce a higher revision of the petroleum product prices Friday, the uproar is bound to be worse since the public outcry took temporary relief thanks to the ongoing court battle and the hope of the president signing the Bill passed by parliament late last month to push the tax two years ahead.

Consumers Federation of Kenya secretary-general Stephen Mutoro said the move to delay presenting the Bill to the president is among the ploys being made to buy time.

“There is obviously no political goodwill to relieve consumers from this burden and for ERC to pretend to be implementing a tax law while ignoring a court order is simply double standard. You will still see a rise in pump prices tomorrow based on these dodgy moves they have made since last week when we all know these products are already overtaxed. The president must make a move, it’s an unprecedented silence from him on this one,” Mr Mutoro said.

Petrol, diesel and kerosene carry a heavy load of levies and taxes raising hundreds of billions for the government in revenues. Over Sh60 billion was raised from the consumption of these three products in the first six months of 2016 alone, according to the official data.

The levies include road maintenance (Sh18 per litre on both diesel and petrol), petroleum development levy (Sh0.40 per litre on all the three fuels), petroleum regulatory levy (Sh0.05 per litre on kerosene and Sh0.12 per litre on petrol and diesel) as well as railway development levy Sh0.50, Sh0.52 and Sh0.51 on every litre of petrol, diesel and Kerosene respectively. With another 16 per cent VAT added on a litre of all the products, the burden is heavier.

High fuel costs affect transport which is the third weightiest factor after food and housing, water and electricity in measuring inflation.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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