Let taxpayers have final word on the proposed housing levy

Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga when he appeared before the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee over the audit queries on the housing levies. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Our Constitution requires public participation in governance, democracy, public affairs, and the decision-making processes at national and county levels.

Kenyan yearned for a new Constitution which promotes their participation in governance of the country through democratic, free, and fair elections and devolution and exercise of power and in the management of public affairs.

People's participation is a national value and principle of governance binding all state organs, state/public officers, and all persons whenever they apply or interpret the Constitution; enact, apply, or interpret any law, or make or implement public policy decisions.

The Constitution requires public participation in over 18 areas, such as in management, protection, and conservation of the environment; in legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees; in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them and in the governance of urban areas and cities.

Public participation is also required in public finance and in the integrated social and economic life of Kenya as a whole. Further, county governments must ensure and coordinate the participation of communities and locations in governance at the local level and assist them to develop the administrative capacity for effective exercise of the functions and powers and their participation in governance at local level.

Ensuring genuine participation guarantees more complete information and data, facts, values, and perspectives which help national and county governments make better decisions.

When done in a meaningful way, public participation will result in better and more easily implementable decisions that reflect public interests, concerns, and values better understood by the public.

It is a repository of long-term capacity for solutions that help us overcome longstanding differences and misunderstandings. Parliament must safeguard against excessive hubris because this will surely be its nemesis. It must step back and assume an inferior position and address people's concerns.

The matter at stake, requiring employees and employers to pay a monthly levy of 3 per cent in addition to PAYE, NHIF, NSSF and other contributions, including VAT and other indirect levies intimately affects all taxpayers and cannot be taken lightly.

Taxpayers are critical to government's existence and while paying taxes is an obligation, it must not be forced. Forcing people to pay a levy will have consequences.

Nonconsequential thinking is becoming a veritable plague that must be avoided at all costs. Taxpayers have through interest groups and representatives clearly indicated opposition to the housing levy, whether it is a saving or not.

The government should listen and not force altruism on Kenyans. There is certainly a national consensus that workers pay way too many levies and taxes, directly and indirectly and they have clearly voiced this to the government. Meaningful public participation, should result in a wide range of views and concerns and provide fair treatment, meaningful involvement, and social inclusion for all people regardless of any distinctions.

The government should balance these views and concerns and reflect the decisions back so that the public understands how its diverse concerns were considered.

Right now, Parliament and the government appear to be pulling far apart from the people, and there is an impasse because of intransigence. This will not end well because any action sets in motion a limitless chain of reactions.

It is said that one can take a donkey to the river but can't force it to drink water. It is time to soften hearts and not play chest-thumping politics with voters. Taxpayers require more understanding and appreciation of the issue.

We are suspicious by nature and there are unexplained questions surrounding this levy. Furthermore, beauty makes us confident, and taxing wigs and other necessary beauty products only adds salt to the injury.

To add insult to the governance injury, amid the conversation around the Finance Bill, financial scandals abound and this does not inspire trust or confidence.

We must separate taxation and levies from a Finance Bill aimed at funding government expenditure and both Parliament and government must humble themselves and listen to their employers, taxpayers.