Kenyans express anger as Ruto MPs force disputed finance bill down throats

Nakuru residents took to the streets to protest against the punitive taxes proposed in the 2024 Finance Bill on June 20, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard] 

President William Ruto yesterday defied Kenyans and their protests against heavy taxation when his MPs pushed through the controversial Finance Bill, 2024.

Ruto’s legislators won the first round in  having the controversial Bill sail through the Second Reading against unprecedented protests by thousands of unarmed youths who held demonstrations across the country.

In the do-or-die duel in Parliament, the majority of Kenya Kwanza MPs voted to ensure the Finance Bill proceeded to the Third Reading stage. Those who voted in support of the Bill were 204 against 115 from the opposition who were opposed to the Bill proceeding. A total of 319 MPs out of a total of 449 lawmakers were present.

The House resorted to voting manually shortly after Speaker Moses Wetangula closed the debate on the Bill which started on Tuesday.

“The results of the division on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, 2024 are as follows. The ‘aye’s 204, nays 115, abstentions nil. So, the aye’s have it. I now order for the Bill to be read for a second time,” announced Wetangula.

The Bill now proceeds to the Third Reading stage also known as the Committee of the Whole House stage where amendments to the text of the Bill are proposed and independent clauses of the Bill are voted on and any new additions made.

The committee will consider the amendments including those introduced by the Finance and Planning Committee and also others to be introduced by members.

“The matter of the Finance Bill is now over for today (Thursday). It will continue on Tuesday where the Committee of the Whole House will consider the amendments,” added the Speaker.

The vote was greeted with angst and a feeling of retribution.

From members of the National Assembly who opposed the bill to Kenyans who were on the streets, the feeling was one – betrayal.

While asserting that the battle is far from over Leader of Minority Opiyo Wandayi wondered why MPs were voting yet protests around the country were ongoing: “This is not the end, this journey has just started. We are taking a vote yet police are battling young people out there. The battle to protect Kenyans interest is on and is not over.”

Blatant reaction

An X user by the account @The_Beardless25 was blatant in his reaction saying the government had turned against the youth and that the battle has just begun. “The Kenyan govt has made one very big mistake! You have turned a generation that was all vibes and chill into militants with nothing to lose. You have taken everything from them and you will pay dearly! It’s not over!” he tweeted.

Minority Whip Junet Mohamed also expressed his dismay at the vote faulting the ruling coalition lawmakers for feigning ignorance on valid input deliberated by the opposition legislators and instead voting under the whims of the Executive. “After pumping a whole of sense to the Kenya Kwanza side, the bill was passed in a very draconian manner. It’s a sad day for me and we have nothing to do but to live with it,” Mohammed said.

Another protesting youth branded the 204 MPs who voted for the bill as traitors and that their fate come 2027 is sealed: @Shedrack_KE said: “Those 204 MPs who have voted Yes against the will of the people which was to #RejectFinanceBill2024 we will show them come 2027.”

These sentiments were shared by Mathare MP Anthony Aluoch who castigated Kenya Kwanza Alliance government for disregarding the views of Kenyans during the public participation exercise.

“This was a long con, the bill presented for public participation was a decoy. I want to encourage Generation Z this battle has started and we will continue,” said Aluoch.

During the debate, National Assembly Finance Committee chairperson Kimani Kuria spoke about the widespread demonstrations noting that Gen Z, which was leading the protests, had been misled.

“Sadly, this debate has been skewed in a different way because of fallacies and lies that have been told. I know the generation behind us, their quickest mode of communication is platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. If you check that platform, the reels are very short and therefore, the way of communication is sensationalised,” he said.

“The people who were calling me, I took time to return all the calls and I was asking them: “You are telling me to reject the bill, tell me what you want me to reject,” and they say “wewe kataa tu” because they’ve not taken time to understand it,” he added.

Saboti MP Caleb Hamisi, however, told off the Kenya Kwanza MPs noting, “This government is going to create anarchy in this country and this Finance Bill is going to be the impetus of this anarchy. We’ve seen what is going on, we’ve seen every town in this country is occupied and soon MPs homes are going to be occupied.”

“We cannot sit here and pretend that everything is normal outside. I want to urge my colleagues on the other side, you have a few minutes to change your mind. We must reject this Finance Bill,” he added.

Leader of Minority Opiyo Wandayi vowed to rally his members to ensure the Bill fails on Tuesday.

“Kenyans have seen how their leaders have voted and it is up to them to take whatever action they can. As Azimio, we did our best and we will not give up the fight. We continue with the fight on Tuesday,” he said.

During a Kenya Kwanza Parliamentary Group meeting at State House to drum up support for the Bill, Kuria had said that his team had listened to the petitions by Kenyans and removed some of the taxes.

At some point, the government had contemplated losing the vote and had even drafted a raft of deductions which would have seen the budget slashed by over Sh1 trillion had MPs voted out the bill.