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VAS

Showdown looms as MPs dig in after Uhuru, Raila pleas

NAIROBI
By Roselyne Obala | September 19th 2018

Members of the National Assembly consult at the lobby during the special sitting to deliberate on the finance bill 2018 that affect VAT of petroleum products at Parliament on Tuesday 18/09/18. [Boniface Okendo,Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga's grip on Parliament will be tested on Thursday 20th September after some Members of Parliament (MPs) remained defiant despite meetings by the leaders to lobby support for the new tax proposals.

The National Assembly will vote on the President's recommended eight per cent value added tax (VAT) on petroleum products and spending cuts aimed at raising Sh55 billion to plug the deficit occasioned by the reduction of VAT on petroleum products from 16 per cent.

On Tuesday 18th September, a Parliamentary Group meeting the President chaired at State House was reportedly stormy. It is said,  Uhuru read the riot act to Jubilee MPs resisting his tax proposals. Some MPs later insisted they would oppose the proposals.

An official statement released by State House acknowledged the session was characterised by a "heated" debate, but explained "the PG meeting also unanimously agreed that there should be budgetary cuts to accommodate the reduction in VAT."

Aware of the rebellion, Raila first met five top ODM leaders at his Capitol Hill offices, apparently to lay the groundwork for the subsequent meeting at Orange House, where party MPs explained their unease about the new tax recommendations.

After the meeting, the Opposition in a statement also agreed to support the President's recommendations but conditionally. The leaders said the eight per cent VAT should be scrapped after one year.

After the two meetings, the MPs went to Parliament for a flurry of press conferences where they insisted they would not back down.

They kept up their clarion call of "zero tax", referring to zero-rating of petroleum products, arguing it was insensitive to burden Kenyans with more taxes yet they were struggling with the high cost of living.

They pointed at the sharp rise in fares due to an increase in pump prices and the attendant consequences in other sectors to plead with the Government to abandon the push for higher taxes.

One group of MPs drawn from Kisii and Nyamira counties urged the President and his deputy, William Ruto, to engage in consultations to avoid a humiliating defeat on the floor of the House.

MPs Innocent Obiri Momanyi (Bobasi), Alpha Miruka (Bomachoge Chache), Richard Onyonka (Kitutu Chache South), Joash Nyamoko (North Mugirango), Jerusha Momanyi (Nyamira Woman Representative), Vincent Mogaka (West Mugirango), Shadrose Mose (Kitutu Masaba), Sylvanus Osoro (South Mugirango), Simba Arati (Dagoretti North) and Janet Ong'era (Kisii Woman Representative) warned they would even resort to street protests over the VAT.

“We are making a request to the President and the DP to quash the VAT on fuel and consult us. We want zero-rated tax,” said Mr Onyonka.

Ms Ong'era urged the leaders to reconsider their position to avoid humiliation.

"The fares from Kisii to Nairobi have shot up from Sh500 to Sh1,500. This is too much for Kenyans," Ong'era said.

“Kenyans should be on the lookout for those who will back the Government,” said Mr Arati.

Sources said during the meeting at State House, the DP engaged in an exchange with Ainabkoi MP William Chepkut.

According to those at the meeting, the DP told off Chepkut over his opposition to the Government, stand but the MP stood his ground.

“I am an MP and you are the DP. Everybody to do their work,” the MP reportedly replied.  

With over 200 Jubilee MPs in the National Assembly, The Standard reliably learnt that only about 70 MPs mainly committee chairpersons, vice chairspersons and the leadership of the House led by Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Township) honoured the President’s invite. Duale, however, insisted that more than 180 MPs were in attendance.

Those at the talks on the Finance Bill reportedly shouted "zero VAT!" when the President and his deputy spoke.

Jubilee leaders who attended the meeting described it as “a forum to be lectured on how to vote.”

“On this matter we are with the electorate. Gone are the days when the President and the DP called a meeting with a pre-determined position and ours was to endorse. We are not an extension of the Executive,” said an angry MP from Rift Valley after the meeting.

“We have come out more determined to veto the reservations than before we went for the meeting. If I knew (this would happen), I would have snubbed it. The proposals from the leadership only angered us more,” said an MP from central Kenya.

Another MP from western Kenya said: “The mood is bad. When you target the National Government Constituency Development (NGCDF), the roads fund, the Affirmative Action Fund, the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), Equalisation Fund among others and selfishly shield the Executive from the budget cuts, it’s spoiling for war.”

They said the NGCDF made them equal with the other arms of government and enabled them to serve the electorate.

They argued that the Government wanted to corner them to support the proposal on eight per cent VAT on petroleum products by targeting their vote.

“The Office of the President has been allocated Sh20 billion. The DP was allocated Sh1.5 billion for renovation of his Karen office built at Sh7 billion. The ministries where billions are misused in projects like the National Youth Service, building a security wall in the northeastern region and the laptops were not touched,” protested another MP from the Rift Valley region.

Not cordial

The MPs described the mood at the meeting as "not cordial" as MPs were whipped to back the President's memorandum on the Finance Bill, which the Head of State refused to assent to after MPs voted to suspend the implementation of the VAT on petroleum products for two years.

Other reports indicated that some MPs who had previously exhibited bravado and vowed to oppose the new taxes were not as brazen at the meeting.

Sources said the meeting did not succeed in addressing the reservations the legislators had over the austerity measures.

“Basically, we did not come to an amicable conclusion because members were protesting at the cutting of CDF,” said the source.

“But the Executive said that when we passed the Finance Bill shelving the 16 per cent increase in fuel tax, he (the President) also felt like he needed to hit us where it would hurt. It was a way of getting back at us,” the source said.

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