Businesses face losses in holiday to honour Pontiff

The government has made a U-turn and granted Kenyans a public holiday on Thursday to coincide with Pope Francis’s historic three-day visit to Kenya, exposing the economy to losses running into billions.

The State had on Sunday ruled out a holiday and directed employers and businesses to adjust their working schedules tomorrow and on Friday to avoid exposing Nairobi residents to crippling traffic disruptions.

“The Government of Kenya has declared 26th November 2015 a public holiday and a national day of prayer and reflection,” said a statement from State House.

Pope Francis will arrive in Kenya at 5pm Wednesday, marking his first visit to Africa, before heading to Uganda on Friday and Central African Republic (CAR) on Sunday. He will fly back to Rome on Monday. 

Mombasa Road and several city roads will be closed as the pontiff moves to State House to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta after his arrival.

Analysts on Tuesday said the holiday in the middle of a working week comes with huge costs to the economy whose growth forecast for 2015 has been cut for the second time by Treasury to 5.8 per cent from the original 6.5 per cent.

“Kenya is not a rich country and cannot afford the luxury of more public holidays on a week day,” said XN Iraki, a lecturer of economics at the University of Nairobi. He faulted mid-week breaks saying Thursday’s holiday will most likely spill over to Friday, robbing the country of economic man-hours and slowing activity.

Dr Iraki said the economy is set to lose billions of shillings tomorrow as businesses close, including banks, schools, courts, government offices and the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) as well as the currency market.

The NSE on Tuesday traded shares and bonds worth Sh1.3 billion. The bourse’s closure on Thursday means loss of commissions for brokers and the stock market, and of trading profits for investors.

“To have minimal disruptions to a working week, holidays ought to be either at the start of the week on Monday or Friday, but not mid-week,” said Dr Iraki, citing the United States where official holidays are observed on a Monday except New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The government did not declare a public holiday during US President Barack Obama’s visit to the country on Friday July 24 for an entrepreneurship summit.

But key city roads were shut that saw a number of businesses close down. City roads set to be closed during certain intervals during the Pope’s stay in Nairobi include Uhuru Highway, Kenyatta Avenue, State House Road, Waiyaki Way, Limuru Road and Thika Highway.

SOURCE: BUSINESS DAILY