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Drafters of Finance Bill should go back to the drawing board

Opinion
 The National Treasury. [Samson Wire, Standard]

In fulfilment of my civic responsibility, I took time from May 10 to go through this year's Finance Bill 2024. One thing that disturbs about the Bill is the nonchalance of the drafters.

The experience of Kenyans in the past one year has been hellish. Families have had to literally tighten their belts because starvation has been their ever-present companion.

The implementation of the Finance Act 2023 coupled with the volatile political environment in the last one year, saw many small, micro and medium enterprises shrink the number of their staff or just go belly up.

When we read reports about the resilience of Kenya’s economy and the GDP growth of 5.6 per cent in the last one year, we must pose and remember that as a consequence of ineffective penetration of the society by the State, government presides over only about 20 per cent of the economy. The other 80 per cent remains largely in the hands of fate.

So while the formal economy might have had an upward swing, the drafters of the Stockholm Statement tell us that GDP growth, in spite of its significance, is not an end in itself. It is just a means of creating the resources needed to achieve a range of societal objectives such as healthcare, education and employment.

With this understanding, we expect the people at Treasury to be alert enough to know that the drop in revenue collection must have been occasioned by business closures due to the unmanageable cost of doing business or that businesses are operating 'underground' (what's referred to as magendo).

The question then is, how does the State shore up revenue collection, carry the people along as primary stakeholders and deliver critical services for its legitimacy to remain unchallenged?

This is where you would want to see creative and intelligent leadership. First, with the loud whispers that tax cheats have hauled up to Sh11 billion out of our tax system this financial year alone, the logical thing is that, people at Times Towers must be made to take responsibility.

The sadder part is that the law enforcement agencies are aware of this but are dragging their feet. They take consolation in the fact that when bills that have been drafted with want of care like the Finance Bill 2024 are presented before Parliament, the voting robots in their numbers will shout ‘Ayee’ and then Kenyans will grunt for a few days then move on.

Building a better country requires all hands on deck. But listening to some of the elected members attempting to explain the Bill has made our hearts sink into our stomachs.

It is for same reasons that during the Jubilee administration, we compared our GDP to debt ratio to that of Japan and nobody called out that fallacy in Parliament. Japan is an industrialised economy while we are still struggling to provide basic classrooms to our children.

Context must remain king if we want to compare our country with her peers either in the region or in the world. Else, we suffer the risk of peddling false hope; a preserve of snake oil merchants. Leadership must be matched with responsibility.

It is against this backdrop that I firmly reject the suggestion that we have the lowest tax to GDP ratio in the continent. Before we compare ourselves with other countries could we please, first make sure services are up and running?

The series of industrial actions that we are witnessing are pointers that social trust is increasingly weakening. Workers like doctors and teachers are anxious about their safety and the future of their children. Farmers are unsure whether they will be able to plant and have a bumper harvest. The young boy taking himself through university is scared about the prospects this country has for him.

Our tax regime must be administered as a society led by men. The Finance Bill 2024 as it is, is devoid of heart and mind.

-Mr Kidi is the convener of Inter-Parties Youth Forum. [email protected]

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