How excesses by ruling elite pushed young people over the tipping point

National Treasury PS Chris Kiptoo (center), KRA Commissioner Customs and Boarder Control Dr. Lilian Nyawanda and National Assembly Finance Committee Chairman Kuria Kimani. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The manner of the budget-making process over the last two years has created a lot of discontent among Kenyans, especially the youth who are becoming increasingly conscious of excesses in government spending.

That explains why Finance Bills have generated a lot of interest from the public as has been the case over the last 18 months since the Kenya Kwanza government took over.

Never before has a Bill that is prepared and presented every year by the Finance and National Planning Committee created a lot of tension, debate and acrimony in the country as has happened with the 2023 and 2024 reports.

Previously, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2018 budget also almost exploded into acrimony when then Siaya Senator James Orengo rallied MPs to oppose the increase of VAT on fuel to 16 percent.

During the tenures of presidents Kibaki and Moi protests in the budget-making process both inside and outside parliament were largely organized by civil society organisations and opposition leaders who largely expressed their dissent against the government and not specifically on the Finance Bill.

Budget-making is now a transparent and open process that is all-inclusive and requires Kenyans to give views unlike in the past when the country pensively waited for what was contained in the Finance Minister’s briefcase.

Political analysts now say the interest in the bills is caused by the heavy and most punitive taxation measures that have been proposed by President William Ruto’s government and his frequent calls to Kenyans urging them to pay tax.

Consequently, young Kenyans have now gone to the streets, raising questions over excesses like the huge amounts of money budgeted for spouses of top people in the executive including the president and his deputy.

Allocations like the Sh600 million allocated for the renovation of a house that cost Sh330 million to construct are also creating a lot of discomfort to the Kenyan taxpayers.

During the three-day demonstrations organised by Gen Z and millennials this week, those who took to the streets also called for the reduction of the State House budget and other expenditures they said was unnecessary.

Many were also unhappy that an office called the Office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary, which does not exist in the constitution, has also been allocated a huge budget for its operations.

The creation of illegal offices like those of Cabinet Assistant Secretaries that were declared illegal by the High Court also generated a lot of outrage from taxpayers in 2023.

Former Senator Billow Kerrow contends that people in government tend to think that young Kenyans don’t understand the excesses they indulge in but they are now getting a rude awakening.

“Just like their counterparts in US universities did in America and Europe, Kenyans youth have managed to mobilise and organize themselves into a very critical force that will not be ignored again going into the future,” says Kerrow.

Unlike in the past, today’s finance bill is also drawing more attention because of the digital revolution, which has become a highly effective rallying tool, unlike in the past when politicians used a lot of resources to hire people and equipment to convene masses.

Senator Kerrow also thinks the simmering discontent in the country over high taxation is further exacerbated by the high unemployment among the youth, most of them university graduates who are getting tired of empty promises.

The president has become a very frequent globetrotter who returns with promises of the jobs he has managed to secure for Kenyan youth that hardly materialise, and that also creates a lot of disaffection against government spending.

According to Kerrow, Kenya has the highest unemployment rate in East Africa, and coupled with the spiralling cost of living that is equally high, the population in the country is growing increasingly restless.

The youth, especially Gen Z, have also been hit with the runaway cost of education after the Ministry of Education changed the education funding model, further limiting access of money to students from the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB)).

“People, especially the young Gen Z  are having a perception that they are being unapologetically robbed in broad daylight,” says Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University.

Pundits further argue that President Ruto has refused to acknowledge that Kenya is a third-world country where 80 percent of the people survive on informal income.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amolo also argues that much of the anger among Kenyans and their distaste for the Finance Bill is because of the wastage they see and the unnecessary spending by a bloated government.

He further argued that although the constitution demands a lean Executive after the number of ministers was consciously reduced and assistant ministers removed with a limited number of principal secretaries, the reality is different.

“The current and last governments have innovatively come up with ways to beat the constitution by introducing illegal offices like the 50 Cabinet Assistant Secretaries that were gazetted and declared illegal by courts but have never been degazetted. They also increased the number of principal secretaries,” said the MP.

He asserts that the next election will be determined by economic issues, especially the high taxation regime imposed by the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Finance Bills.

The MP further stated that over-taxation is not the best way of raising revenue because it only hurts the spending power and wealth creation of the common people who cannot put food on the table.

“Stop overtaxing Kenyans, they may be quiet but not stupid, and that will be a primary determinant of who will be re-elected. The hustlers and mama mbogas (vegetable vendors are waiting not only for presidential candidates but also for MPs,” he added.

 He also cautioned the Kenya Kwanza government to stop bleeding Kenyans dry by sending KRA officers to count how many spoons and chicken they have, because people are already overtaxed.

It has also been argued that many youths in the country are unhappy because employment opportunities are dished out on ethnic considerations, making other communities feel bitter and discontented.

Prof Naituli says the government creates a lot of suspicion about the Finance Bill when no explanation is offered for some of the money allocated, an example being a line of Sh800 million in the 2024 bill that was listed as secret expenditure.

He states that such behaviour by the drafters of the bill makes Kenyans conclude that parliament is part of the executive when MPs are supposed to be people’s representatives and that is what is creating the anger among frustrated youth.

“It is equivalent to what happened in the US in 1763 at the Boston Tea Party where Americans they came up with a declaration that there should be no taxation by Britain without representation before they got their own independence,” adds Naituli.

So after realising that they didn’t have representatives, the young people who took to the streets also wanted to invoke Article One of the Constitution, which allowed them to take back power that they had donated to the MPs and the Kenya Kwanza government.

Prof Naituli further extrapolates that it will be very difficult for opportunist politicians who like to jump into situations to retain power to exploit the wave created by Gen Z and millennials because they will be told to get out of the way.

Another political analyst Martin Andati points at the levels of awareness among Gen Z as the reason for their deep scrutiny of the current Finance Bill

“There is a lot of information out there. They all have smartphones and are well educated, so can easily communicate through social media. Also, because of the internet, they are more educated and informed,” adds Andati.

A former minister in President Mwai Kibaki’s government, Kipruto arap Kirwa also says there is a lack of austerity measures and Kenyans realise that the government is not adjusting to the high inflation.

“For example, we have two occupants of the office that were previously held by the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet; now we have  the Head of Public Service and then the Secretary to the Cabinet,” says Kirwa.

He also drew parallels between President Ruto’s spending and that of Zambia President Hakainde Hichilema who rejected new cars when he took office, while in Kenya Sh800 million was used to buy new cars.

He says Ruto preferred to have a new Mercedes Pullman Guard S550, when the Mercedes S600 that president Uhuru Kenyatta was using was still fairly new.

Speaking at the same forum, Suba Churchill of the Kenya National Civil Society Centre, said noble causes like tree planting have become a gravy train and is also used for playing to the international gallery.

“The last auditor's report said in the last trees planting exercise, billions of shillings were spent there but was not even a single accounting document,” said Churchill.

He added that other areas used for siphoning public money include, renovations at State House and the deputy president’s residence because they are not open to the public who cannot therefore not know the contractors and the work being done.

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