Ruto owes us an honest debate on the Finance Bill

President William Ruto during the launch of Aden Duale's book 'For the Record' in Nairobi. [PCS]

The appropriations and finance Bills are the most important policy documents processed by the executive and legislative arms of government each year.

They serve as a ritualised renewal of our social contract with fellow Kenyans and a fiscal pact that, as a society, we have with the government of the day.

The two policy documents serve to answer questions such as: what do we owe each other, including the least fortunate among us? And how much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of the social good?

To illustrate the importance of having honest discussions in attempts to answer these two questions, let us consider the proposal to levy taxes for an affordable housing fund.

At face value, this is a brilliant idea with potential for significant multiplier effects on our economy.

It would force Kenyans to save more, thereby creating a resource pool for investments.

It would also enable the government to borrow more, the net effect would mean lower interest costs and less crowding out of the private sector.

It would enable creation of jobs in construction. And finally, it would enable more Kenyans in urban areas to reclaim their dignity by owning homes. Recall that 60 per cent of urban Kenyans live in informal settlements.

Why is the president and his team struggling to sell such a great policy proposal? A reasonable person would conclude that it is either because policymakers have not thought through the policy or the government actually does not intend to follow through with the full implications of the policy.

The fund, it seems, might just be a ruse to force Kenyans pay more taxes and avail resources for government spending.

A few houses will be built and given to well-connected individuals, while the rest of the money will be used to get over the current liquidity challenge and the rest stolen.

That would not be an unreasonable conclusion. From the NSSF to all manner of levies that were attached to specific public goods, we have seen the government do just that.

The inherent public distrust of these schemes can only be cured through honest public discussion about the government’s real intentions with our money.

Anything short of that should be viewed by Kenyans as confirmation that the government – both the executive and Bunge – has no intention of following through on its promises.

-The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University