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Kenya needs a new tax policy that will drive the economy forward

By Ken Gichinga | May 16th 2021
Hundreds of Locals await services at the Kenya Revenue Authority.[Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

While Kenya’s history is replete with economic blueprints ranging from Vision 2030 to the Big Four Agenda, there has not been clear articulation of the principles guiding the collection of revenue to fund the country’s growth plans.

And as Kenyans find themselves facing a mountain of debt and its attendant high taxation policies that touch on everything from bread to infant milk, the anger is palpable.

Now more than ever, there is a great need to have a new tax policy that outlines the principles that will guide the Kenyan economy into prosperity.

Ideas around taxation principles have been floated by various thinkers over the last few centuries. Adam Smith wrote in the Wealth of Nations that “…the economic incomes of private people are of three main types: rent, wages and profit. Ordinary taxpayers will ultimately pay their taxes from at least one of these revenue sources.”

In his mind, Smith must have classified the entire economy into the three factors of production of land, labour and enterprise. His ideas have been enriched over time and today we also include the fourth factor of production which is capital - whose income is in the form of interest.

In many ways, these four factors of production might be compared to the four legs of a table that give it stability and balance. They are the four building blocks of the economy – emphasising one at the expense of others creates an imbalance and generates instability across the entire system.

Of all the four factors of production, it is the entrepreneur who has borne the brunt of over taxation.  From the introduction of the digital service tax targeting online businesses to the increase in VAT on fuel products, and now with the controversial minimum tax laws, the catalogue of obstacles facing the business community is alarming.

All this while, the Covid pandemic is ravaging the economy, leaving many jobless and contributing to a very restless environment. Whereas many might hope that the full reopening of the economy will help mitigate this harsh environment, there is a wave of discontentment across the country that calls for a fundamental transformation of our economic model into one that values and promotes enterprise and innovation.

In sharp contrast, the factor of production associated with capital appears to have been spared from the harsh taxation regime evident in the other areas. The Treasury proposal to remove the excise tax of 20 per cent on bank loans will lessen the tax load in the banking sector by up to Sh7 billion annually. There was a promise that this could see banks reducing loan costs, but these claims have been impeached by evidence on the ground pointing to the contrary.

Such examples reinforce a narrative that Kenya’s economic model is anchored on punishing enterprise but rewarding capital.

In the final analysis, a sense of balance and stability can only be achieved through a new tax policy that equally draws from all the factors of production.  Through a spirit of shared responsibility, Kenya can be able to raise enough tax revenue without one party feeling overburdened.

The writer is Chief Economist at Mentoria Economics


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