For citizens not trained in finance like myself, the Finance Bill 2023 that the Kenya Kwanza government has put out calling for public participation comes across as a technical document for the finance elite. There is nothing wrong with the content in the document.
Like many other Kenyans, the financial language therein makes me realise how little I know about the budget-making process which, paradoxically, I am constitutionally entitled to actively participate in.
Those in the financial world tell me the Finance Bill 2023 proposes to exponentially hike the tax that any breathing Kenyan should pay.
To prepare ground, government mandarins, including Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, have time and again invited us to tighten our belts because "things will get worse before they get better, in two years".
As a patriot, I know I must pay tax to the government to get protection and services that otherwise I will not get on my own. But, I also know, as a patriot, I am entitled to know how the government uses the tax its citizens pay.
That we must pay tax is not the problem. After all, it is the rich who can easily evade tax. Specifically, I would like the sponsors of the Bill to educate citizens like me on two fronts.
First, if the taxes are raised to pay public debt, it is only fair that the debt register be made public in a way that is easy to access it so that Community-Based Organisations, Faith-Based Organisations and the larger Civil Society Organisations can quickly break it down for us to know what amount the debt is, who gave the monies and for what purpose.
It then follows that the sponsors of the Bill should find it courteous to tell us what projects were implemented using the borrowed money.
There are projects that failed after being launched such as the promised mega stadiums or even the laptop project for every child in the lead to the 2013 General Election.
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It will be good if the sponsors demonstrate that borrowed money was not injected into white elephant mega projects or, if it was, whose burden is it to repay.
If all the taxpayers have to repay the debt that didn’t benefit everyone, it will really help us make informed decisions if there is a persuasion campaign to tell us that with or without completed projects we are better of repaying the debt collectively.
Second, as we are poor in finance matters, the sponsors of the Bill will do us a great service to assure us that the tax the government intends to collect is designated.
Why? Because we were told by the government that it inherited empty coffers, in fact, if I remember well, only Sh98 million in the Treasury.
I have no idea how financial postmortems are done, whether it is through forensic audits or arraigning people to produce the missing billions – if indeed they were there.
My worry is without a proper mechanism in place or at least without civic education on how the Kenya Kwanza will be different from the one it replaced, it will be very difficult to freely watch the long arm of government getting taxes from us for an end we are not properly educated on.
An intense campaign to show how accountability and transparency will be a culture of the government will ease the citizens' fear to pay taxes for the kind of services they should expect.
The last regime spoke a lot about corruption and how we lose Sh2 billion a day. This regime is very silent on corruption.
Since there are no more fools in Kenya, at least per the government belief, it is in the citizens’ interest to know what specific priorities the government is targeting and at what cost.
We, the people, are constitutionally supposed to be part of the budget-making process from the ward to the national level. Make it happen.
Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication