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Tax stand-off as boda boda riders defy county call to pay

A boda boda rider ferries a man pulling a hand cart along the Kisii -Nyamira highway. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

A simmering dispute over tax payments between the local government and boda boda operators has escalated in Nyamira County, reflecting broader tensions surrounding fiscal policy and governance in the region.

The conflict, which has been ongoing since the inception of devolution, centres on the obligation of boda boda riders to remit taxes to the County Government. Operators argue that they have been exempt from taxation due to perceived neglect and unfulfilled promises of infrastructure improvements.

Under the late Governor John Nyagarama’s administration, boda boda riders were granted amnesty from tax payments following unsuccessful attempts to persuade them to comply. However, subsequent administrations, including the current leadership under Governor Amos Nyaribo, have faced resistance from the riders.

Bernard Orindo, Chairman of the Nyamira Bodaboda Sacco, cited Governor Nyaribo’s reluctance to engage in direct dialogue with riders as a key factor contributing to the ongoing standoff. Orindo emphasized that the riders were willing to pay taxes if their concerns, such as road maintenance and the construction of shelters, were addressed.

“All the time we have sought to sit with Governor Nyaribo, he sends his officers to us. These are people we cannot sit down with to make any meaningful discussions, based on our demands. We have always wanted the Governor and the more he continues to be elusive on us, the more we will resist his calls for tax,” Orindo says.

County Finance and Planning Executive Dr Geoffrey Nyakoe said it is a constitutional obligation for all citizens to pay tax. 

“Tax is a serious obligation on every Kenyan. It remains a begging question as to why the bodaboda riders would make themselves special in doing a constitutional obligation. Other Kenyans never question or give conditions for overpayment of tax because it is something that should be done faithfully,” Dr Nyakoe says.

Construct shelters

The key issues the riders have against the county government are the sustainable maintenance of roads and the construction of shelters for them at various designated carriage stations.

The dispute has broader implications for Nyamira County’s development agenda, as tax revenue plays a crucial role in funding essential services and infrastructure projects. Governor Nyaribo highlighted the county’s significant revenue losses, estimated at Sh30 million annually, due to non-compliance from the boda boda sector alone.

When the National Chairman of the Bodaboda Association of Kenya Kevin Mbadi visited Nyamira two months ago he touched on the issue of nonpayment of tax.

“Paying tax is an important obligation and everyone should execute that mandate faithfully or be counted as an aggressor of the Constitution,” Mbadi told them.

Masaba North Sub-county Chairman Dominic Babu says the issue of non-payment of tax has been wrongly used to immobilise county development, an issue he says needs to be revisited.

The governor said the county was losing about Sh30 million annually due to non-payment of revenue from the bodaboda sector alone.

“These are huge sums of money we should be collecting. It is not going to be business as usual and we will have to reverse the level of disobedience of the law among riders,” the governor assured.

The County received an accolade recently after the Controller of Budget Dr Margaret Nyakang’o praised the devolved unity for improving its own revenue collections.

By April 2024, the county had collected around Sh270 million with the county approximation being pegged at Sh400 million, a historic figure.

In 2022/23 financial year, the county hit a target of Sh284 million against a target of Sh500 million.

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