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CS Rotich owes Kenyans an explanation on punitive taxes

By The Standard | September 7th 2018

It is sad that the National Treasury has remained mum even as the 16 per cent value added tax on petroleum products wreaks havoc across the country. Neither Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich nor Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge have come out to give direction, leaving a vacuum that has spawned speculation.

While it is not the role of Treasury to go into the details of every policy issue under its purview, this particular price hike has hit all Kenyans hard and as such calls for its attention.

Other than the heat being felt from having to pay high costs to commute, more hits could be coming the way of Kenyans as manufacturers, service providers and general traders start factoring in the higher costs of doing business in the pricing of their goods and services.

Already, millers in parts of Western Kenya have increased the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour by Sh5. And soon, this hike is going to cascade to all other basic consumer products, plunging ordinary Kenyans further into misery.

That is why Mr Rotich needs to come out and calm Kenyans down. He needs to succinctly explain where he is coming from and why he needs to raise more money through this and other tax measures.

It is unfortunate that four days since this tax became effective, and as the country grapples with a shortage of petrol as depots are blockaded, the CS and his colleagues at Treasury have not made any attempts to demonstrate that they understand what ordinary citizens are going through. This is a bitter pill for Kenyans to swallow.

We understand that Treasury needs money from somewhere to build roads, ports and schools; to pay teachers, doctors and police officers; to buy drugs and textbooks. And we also appreciate that the Government can get the money to finance these projects from either taxes or debts.

But regardless of what Treasury might have done to get the country into this quagmire, Kenyans need to know whether these punitive tax measures are the only option on the table. From official data, it is clear that Rotich has limited room to borrow and must find alternatives to fund his budget. But it should not be so painful.

Kenyans already feel that they are over-taxed. The loss of taxpayer funds through corruption and unfulfilled promise of better healthcare, schools and roads are all a turn-off and enough to brew anger among even the most fervent supporters of a government.

While there appears to be goodwill in the fight against corruption, there is need for more action with tangible results. Other than criminal convictions, which are yet to come, Kenyans want funds that have been stolen recovered and used for public good.

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