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Finance Bill will hurt ordinary Kenyans, improve elite's lives

Opinion
 Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua speaks during an interview with The Standard in March 2019. [John Muchucha, Standard]

The 2024/25 budget should have been about ending poverty and economic empowerment. Putting the country on a growth trajectory should have been the focus. Instead, it was largely about conspicuous consumption by the political elite and imposition of more taxes upon the already overburdened citizenry.

Currently, many Kenyans are dying of treatable diseases because of corruption in the health care sector. Lack of drugs, anti-malarial nets in hospitals and dispensaries is sadly the new normal. Unfortunately, the majority of citizens, including those that live in towns, have no access to clean drinking water, yet the regime has crafted abudget that promotes ostentatious expenditure for itself in violation of Article 203 (a) and Article 43 of the Constitution.

In budget making, a clinical examination of socio-economic factors is imperative in order to arrive at the right choices. In a nutshell, the focus and outcome of the budget must lead to a collectively better Kenya based on a true reference and respect for the people.

It is not about funding the executive and the system’s exclusive aristocracy. Our collective action, through effective government provision of health, education, infrastructure, and agriculture is needed for economic transformation.

The Finance Cabinet Secretary gave a budget speech whose preamble was lamentations about weather and Covid-19. He preceded his presentation with excuses for not having been able to meet the projections and campaign promises. In the end, it was a ritual that signaled an augury of economic doom. To compound the matter, the budget was read to a horribly compromised Parliament; a bicameral House of representatives that sees no evil, hears no evil, and says no evil.

During the Boston Tea Party of 1773, Americans made the famous declaration of “No Taxation Without Representation”. The tea party was a revolutionary act of defiance against high taxes imposed upon the colonies by the British colonists. The people felt that parliament, as was then constituted, was detached and incapable of representing, protecting and defending their interests. Hence, they rebelled against what they justly felt as a pernicious taxation regime.

Today, Kenya is at the point where Americans were in December 1773 during the Boston Tea Party revolution. The Kenyan parliament has lost people’s trust as a vanguard pro-people institution. Instead, through greed, it has reduced itself to a rubber-stamp of the executive.

The executive itself no longer takes Parliament seriously. One would have expected a president who was elected on the promise and premise of economic renaissance to attend the budget ritual to Parliament. Its largely ceremonial status notwithstanding, a presidential attendance could have coated the event with a shine of solemnity and a demonstration of commitment to some level of fiscal agenda.

Yet, the President was in Meru to “donate” a school bus and open a milk plant that has been in operation for decades. I have written the word donate in quotes deliberately because the price of the bus would pale in the shadow if weighed against the cost of the presidential tour to the region. The cost of the tour alone can probably buy more than 10 buses. Not that I’m saying it’s wrong for the President to tour the country. My point is that the importance of the tour should be balanced in the light of the prevailing dire economic circumstances.

The coincidence of the Meru tour and national reading of the budget might indicate that the President is more interested in playing politics than economic revival. In my view, such tours should be shelved until we approach the campaign period. This should be the time for real work. The contradiction of preaching fiscal measures in Parliament when the supposed principal of such measures is on a spendthrift jamboree is obviously a manifestation of deceit.

The fundamentals of any economy are education, agriculture, enterprise, security and health. There is no country that has ever taxed itself to prosperity. Fiscal policy should incentivise investment, create a conducive environment for business, support SMEs and build infrastructure, enforce a strict code of fiscal discipline, ensure strategic resource allocation to productive sectors, and operational efficiency... the rest will follow.

On the contrary we are busy investing in a pyramid scheme of costly advisers from the presidential level to the counties. Why don’t they select a cabinet of wise men and women who can offer proper advice instead of duplication where, in addition to the cabinet, the president, the ministers and governors all have a separate gang of costly advisors.

One may be forgiven to think that the battery of the so-called advisors are part of a Ponzi scheme to facilitate smooth money laundering operations.

The bottom-up economic mantra has turned into a pernicious taxation catastrophe, which hurts the bottom most. Well, it is a tale of a wolf promising the sheep to be a vegetarian once elected into office. The reality is here with us.

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