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State, Azimio battle to play out in Parliament as MPs resume sittings

 When private sector stakeholders presented their views before the National Assembly Finance and Planning Committee on theFinance bill 2023 at Hilton Garden Inn on May 29, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The fate of millions of Kenyans grappling with the high cost of living, and a potential increase in taxes amid reduced or stalled incomes, lies in the hands of the people's representatives in Parliament, who are slated to resume their sittings tomorrow.

MPs have been on a month-long recess even though many of them have publicly participated in political rhetoric over several issues such as the controversial Finance Bill, 2023 that directly touch on the lives and revenues of Kenyans.

From Tuesday the 349 members of the National Assembly are expected to consider the Finance Bill (2023) which provides for the ways and means of financing the 2023/2024 budget.

Over the past weeks, the Finance Bill has created fireworks, prompting both the opposition and government to hold separate Parliamentary Group (PG) meetings to strategise and pursue their respective objectives.

The government mobilised its MPs to support the Bill and ensure its passage, while the opposition has actively pushed for its rejection.

Among other things, the Bill introduces the National Housing Development Fund contribution. Under this provision, both employers and employees are required to contribute three per cent of the employee's monthly basic salary to the fund.

These contributions are capped at Sh5,000 per month.

Additionally, resident individuals who earn income from digital content monetisation, such as social media influencers, will now be subject to a 15 per cent withholding tax.

Furthermore, the bill amends the turnover tax (TOT) by reducing the minimum eligibility threshold from Sh1 million to Sh500,000 and increasing the turnover tax rate from one per cent to three per cent.

Tax base

This change expands the tax base by including more small enterprises while reducing the number of medium enterprises subject to TOT.

Touching on the livelihoods of Kenyans, the Bill has been subject to public debate in the last month with the opposition calling for its withdrawal while the government maintains it will pass into law.

During the public participation exercise, 74 out of 84 interested groups disapproved of the Bill being pushed by the government at the height of an unyielding economic crisis.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said the opposition is more than prepared to challenge some of the sections of the Bill to be debated in Parliament in the coming weeks. "We are going back to the House fully re-energised and emboldened by the massive public goodwill that our cause is enjoying."

Tight-lipped about the strategies the opposition will employ to try and challenge the government which holds a comfortable majority in both houses of Parliament, Wandayi argues the thought of knowing the public is behind them is enough.

"The ruling regime has a duty to protect the interest of the people and it has failed to do so," said Wandayi.

Speaking in Kitui on Saturday, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua stated that the opposition lacked the requisite numbers to shoot down the Bill at the National Assembly.

"I want to tell you even if you oppose the Bill, it will still sail through because you have no numbers, so why waste your energy," Gachagua said.

The House is also expected to consider the committee reports on the suitability of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director General nominee Noordin Haji and the Central Bank Governor nominee Dr Kamau Thugge for the positions.

Similarly, the National Assembly will consider a report by the Departmental Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs on the suitability of former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto and Ms Caroline Nzilani who were nominated by the President to the 11-member Judicial Service Commission).

MPs will also debate the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes (Amendment) Bill (2023) that seeks to remove two offences from the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act of 2003.

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