Public pressure mounts on MPs over punitive Finance Bill

Treasury PS Chris Kiptoo (centre) with KRA Commissioner Customs and Boarder Control Dr. Lilian Nyawanda and National Assembly Finance Committee Chairman Kuria Kimani (left) during a Committee meeting on the Finance bill, 2024 at County Hall, Nairobi on June 11, 2024 [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Kenyans have adopted unorthodox means to bully lawmakers to reject punitive taxes contained in the Finance Bill 2024 that is set to be tabled before Parliament on Tuesday.

Terming the taxes oppressive and an avenue to impoverish Kenyans, the electorate are equating President William Ruto’s attempt to tax the nation into prosperity to a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.

For the last two days, MPs have had to contend with endless phone calls and messages from their constituents who are seeking to know their stand on the Finance Bill that proposes punitive taxes in efforts to raise revenue to fund the government’s Sh3.9 trillion budget.

Some of the contentious tax proposals in the Finance Bill include a 16 per cent VAT tax on bread, a 2.5 per cent motor vehicle circulation tax, as well as other proposals that will see the cost of mobile money transfers, airtime and data increase.

The Treasury is also seeking to have taxes levied on motorcycle imports, betting and payments from government supplies and tenders increased.

What started out for some users of X (formerly Twitter) as a campaign to vent their frustration culminated in a campaign that has seen users share the numbers of President Ruto and MPs from across the political divide which they have flooded with messages to press them to shoot down the punitive taxes contained in the Bill.

The legislators are evidently feeling the pressure, as evidenced by their responses.

Sabatia MP Clement Sloya divulged to The Standard that his phone has been ringing endlessly and he has so far received more than 4,500 messages.

According to the screenshots seen by The Standard, the MP's constituents want him to reject the Finance Bill especially proposals to tax sanitary pads, food and diapers.

“Why would you want to impose tax on pads for starters? The same issue we are struggling with?” Asked one of the constituents.

Other constituents demanded that Sloya rejects the "bad" Bill in totality.

The MP however, argued that it would be unwise to reject the Bill in totality.

“The Finance Bill is not entirely bad. We only have sections that evidently have issues that need to be addressed. Castigating the document as a whole is ill informed,” he said.

“Without any fear of contradiction, I can say that a section of people have not read the Finance Bill but have just joined the reject the Finance Bill bandwagon. For MPs to effectively deal with this issue, they need to read and point out the contentious areas so we can address them," the MP added. 

National Assembly Majority Chief Whip Sylvanus Osoro termed the actions of Kenyans on social media "riots” and ruled out the rejection of the Finance Bill in its entirety.

“People are sending us vulgar messages telling us that we must reject the Finance Bill. I want to tell them that we will not reject it because we must fund the government, but we are going to reject contentious clauses. Clauses on bread for instance, are debatable. If we can’t reject some of the clauses entirely, then we will have to seek a way to reduce some of the proposals,” said Osoro.

Kiambaa MP John Wanjiku lamented the numerous phone calls and messages he had received and accused Kenyans of not allowing debate on the Finance Bill.

“Kenyans have been in our inboxes, emails and social media platforms telling us to reject the Finance Bill. They are however not telling us why we need to reject the Finance Bill. These are the conversations that we need to have,” he said.

Notably, Wanjiku has been in the eye of a storm after he vowed to support the Finance Bill despite the reservations of his constituents.

“Yes, the people of Kiambaa elected me, but I am in Parliament to serve and represent the will and wishes of President William Ruto and his government. I cannot go against my master and friend, Majority Leader Kimani Ichungwah. I will vote yes,” he earlier said.

But opposition MPs have declared support for the ‘Reject the Finance Bill’ movement saying that the country was ripe for a revolution.

Alego Usonga MP Sam Atandi supported the move by Kenyans to press legislators to shoot down the controversial Bill.

"I fully support Kenyans for their decision to pile pressure on MPs. The lawmakers now have no option but to listen and act on the people’s demands,” Atandi said.

ODM party Secretary General Edwin Sifuna, while lauding the civil awakening in the country, directed legislators from the Raila Odinga-led party to suspend travel that would see them out of the city and Parliament during the consideration of the controversial Bill.

“All members of the National Assembly are to suspend any planned trips or any activities that would see them out of Nairobi for the duration of the consideration of the Finance Bill 2024 and that means from the day of tabling on Tuesday next week until a vote is taken,” said Sifuna during a press briefing Friday.

Migori Woman Representative Fatuma Zainab took to social media saying, “I am waking up to numerous messages from concerned Kenyans asking me to reject the Finance Bill 2024. I want to clarify that I have opposed this scam disguised as a Finance Bill from day one. It poses a threat to the livelihood of the common Mwananchi.”

At the same time, civil society has lauded the accountability campaign by Kenyans terming it a move in the right direction.

Siasa Place Executive Director Nerima Wako commended citizens for exercising their power.

“They (MPs) are public officers and their power is derived from the people. So, they represent the needs of a people as a whole and not their views. That said, as public officers, they should be of service and even if they are not going to respond, they can take the plights into consideration,” Wako said in a phone interview with The Standard.

On MPs decrying the flooding of their private numbers with calls and messages, she said: “These contacts are in the public domain for instance, these contacts are on all their letterheads. So that does not mean the information being shared is private.”

“It's an effective way only if they know their personal number because some of them have both private (they respond to them in person) and public numbers (there is someone handling)," she added.

Wako called out a section of MPs for not having read the Finance Bill and relying on their party positions in making decisions.

International Centre for Policy and Conflict Executive Director Ndungú Wainaina took to X to laud the movement.

“There is serious misuse, abuse and arbitrariness in the exercise of legislative powers by the Kenyan Parliament. Kenyans need to assert their sovereignty against Parliament and enforce regulation to deter Parliamentary tyranny,” he said.