Kenya's government has unveiled a package of initiatives under its latest budget to develop Islamic finance in the country, as part of efforts to mobilise local funds and set Nairobi as a regional hub for the sector. The moves could spur Kenya's decade-old Islamic banking sector and help the government fund infrastructure in a country where Muslims account for about 10% of the population of some 44 million.
Finance Minister Henry Rotich outlined the steps as part of the country's 2017/2018 budget, released on Thursday, aiming to level the playing field between Islamic and interest-based transactions. Amendments to the Public Finance Management Act will also allow the government to issue Islamic bonds, or sukuk, as an alternative funding source. This could prove useful for a government that has set aside billions for infrastructure, with a fiscal deficit set at 524.6 billion shillings ($5.10 billion).
Kenya plans to develop Islamic finance through a wide-ranging taxation review and the establishment of a national sharia board. The country wants to build up the industry as part of a long-term plan to turn Nairobi into an international financial centre. The initiatives are being led by the Islamic Finance Project Management Office (PMO), a body setup recently to coordinate efforts among Kenya's regulatory agencies. According to finance consultant Farrukh Raza, the PMO has submitted an initial set of policy amendments focused on taxation of sharia-compliant products. A second batch of policy amendments will be presented by the end of this year, covering banking, insurance, pensions and capital market products. Kenya's National Treasury has said it is looking at the possibility of a debut sale of sukuk, although it has yet to finalize details for such an issuance.
The Indonesian government has launched a national master plan to develop its Islamic finance industry. Indonesian Islamic banks hold roughly 5% of total banking assets, compared with more than 20% in neighbouring Malaysia. According to Farrukh Raza, managing director of IFAAS, an Islamic finance consultancy which designed the 10-year master plan, the government would increase its use of Islamic debt instruments to as much as 50% of total issuance in 10 years time. Indonesia's pilgrims' fund would also see the establishment of a dedicated asset management arm to implement a more rigorous investment policy and attract external fund managers.