Graft lords are back to collect after tax vote

President Uhuru (seated) signing Finance Bill 2018 into law in Nairobi
The five events that happened last week in the country, of which four were at Parliament, need more interrogation. There was a win by the minority over the majority. This was made possible by the two-thirds rule while some lawmakers chose to abstain and others deliberately interfered with the process. By so doing, corruption invoiced the citizens.

These issues shape democracy and feed into the stability of the nation. Watching events at Parliament, I concluded the two-thirds majority rule or supermajority means that minority dictated over the majority in situations where decisions are made without full information.

This rule is borrowed from the US and is interpreted to mean two-thirds or more of the votes cast and not necessarily two-thirds of members of a voting unit such as parliament.

This means fixed membership rather than on those present and voting. I am not sure which of these apply to our Parliament. The intention was to make sure that any action of a deliberative assembly that may alter the rights of a minority has a supermajority requirement such as a two-thirds vote.

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In any case, abstentions and absences are excluded when calculating the two-thirds to vote. The question is, in the case of the fuel tax vote last week, who were the majority and the minority?

In the case where Members of Parliament walked out, do their votes and their absence support or do not support the motion? Somebody - probably non-lawyers - need to explain this to us. Independently, I noticed that those supporting and opposing the new fuel tax were not arguing from an informed position. It appears that they relied on common sense. However, at times, we need more than common sense because no member backed their arguments with research or report on how this new tax will impact the quality of life of Kenyans.

The debate should have been informed by models and numbers. I wonder what the research team at Parliament does. They should have informed MPs about the impact of all these changes on prices of products and services, influence on exchange rates, the effect of the change on the profitability of the business and the marginal changes in tax revenues in the economy.

Numbers do not lie. That approach could have saved the country from the divisive vote. Why do I say the corrupt invoiced the citizens?

An invoice is also called a bill. We have accepted corruption as a nation and it is now payback time. We have been invoiced and we must pay up and receive a receipt.

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Reject graft

We cannot blame the President for this! We as the people must first build on our sense of wrong and right.

If we rejected corruption, we would have not knocked at the door of fuel tax. It appears regardless of issues at stake, Kenyans have been voting against the opposing party rather than for their own party. 

The fuel tax debate gives the impression of a shift from that position. It is easier building a consensus devoid of bitterness.  The Brexit experience in the UK proves that voting is not always the best solution to a problem.

If what we saw in Parliament last week persists and the MPs opposing fuel tax dig in, it will be difficult for the executive to get their agenda through the legislature.

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An unstable Parliament means an unstable country.

Furthermore, that debate might end the careers of many MPs because some of them come from areas that will suffer the most from this law.

Are there are credible political parties? What happens when members vote against their party as it happened last week or when the majority of the members from different parties oppose a motion supported by the executive?

This is interpreted to mean lack of discipline. I gather that “party discipline is the ability of a parliamentary group of a political party to get its members to support the policies of their party.” It is rare for members to vote against the wishes of their party which is not good for democracy.

-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

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TaxesFinance Bill 2018