'Occupy parliament' protests on as Kenyans call out MPs over Finance Bill

An activist is detained by security officials after he attempted to grab the ICONIC briefcase that Treasury CS Prof Njuguna Ndungu was carrying as he made his way to Parliament to read the Budget Statement. The activist was protesting some of the measures contained in the Finance Bill 2024. [John Muchucha, Standard]

A showdown looms today as Kenyans vow to push Members of the National Assembly to reject sections Finance Bill 2024, terming it oppressive in the current economic situation.

A section of human rights activists has called on Kenyans to come out in large numbers to stage a sitting outside Parliament and be on the ‘right side’ of history, as they demand that the Bill be amended.

One of the conveners, Boniface Mwangi said Monday that President William Ruto has to listen to Kenyans, who are the tax payers and have a big say on what affects them.

“On Tuesday, we will come to occupy Parliament and ensure that the MPs listen to what Kenyans want. This is our country; it belongs to all of us so the sovereign power belongs to the people,” said Mwangi.

He added, “Kenyans should be on the right side of history and come outside Parliament and watch their Mps, who have to decide if they are for one person or with the rest of the country. Their voting determines the future and whether they are traitors or leaders.”

Insisting that it will be a peaceful protest, the activists said the sit-in, running under the tagline ‘Occupy Parliament’ and ‘RejectFinanceBill2024’, is only about citizens rising against government’s over-taxation, with those who will participate urged to don black, carry placards, handkerchiefs and a bottle of water.

“It is a peaceful protest, and we believe officers are being mobilised to protect us. We notified the Inspector General of Police, he is well aware that the Constitution, Article 37 gives every Kenyan the right to protest, and picket anywhere,” he added.

Azimio Youth Advocate, Rachel Tabitha, who is also opposed to the bill, described it as awkward saying it will result in a complex, hazardous and expensive economy, which Kenyans will not sustain.

“This might result in lowering the living standards of the people due to overtaxing by the government. I propose critical basic amenities in the bill, like bread be rechecked. In future, the government should be cautious on what they propose to be taxed, otherwise they might end up being the most unpopular regime ever elected,” said Tabitha.

The Finance Bill 2024 has been opposed over some of its contentious proposals, including 16 per cent VAT tax on bread, a 2.5 per cent motor vehicle circulation tax and others that could see an increase in the cost of mobile money transfer, airtime and internet data bundles.

Similarly, Kenyans have raised concern over the eco levy environmental tax, which they say will increase prices for all plastic packaging materials, batteries and hygiene products.

The National Assembly Committee on Finance, chaired by Molo Mp Kimani Kuria, is expected to table a report on the Bill after carrying out a public participation exercise, even as he assured that they will consider submissions given.

He said the committee will go through clauses presented by Kenyans and compare with what is being proposed in the Finance Bill and ensure the report is ready by Tuesday.

“We want to assure Kenyans that this was not an exercise in futility. We want you to hold us to account on the views where the bill is and where the committee report is going to be. We will make sure we accommodate as much as possible, views of Kenyans even as we try to balance generating revenue to fund the budget estimates of Financial Year 2024/25,” said Kimani.

This comes against the backdrop of divided opinion between Kenya Kwanza and Azimio coalition MPs on whether or not the bill should pass.

While Kenya Kwanza says that the bill will help raising revenue for the good of the country, Azimio insists that the tax measures will have a substantial impact on both individuals and businesses in the country.

Head of Public Service, Felix Koskei has assured that all revenue collected once the bill is passed will be safeguarded and used prudently.

“We have agreed and given direction, and even the President has directed, we are not going to tolerate corruption in this country,” said Koskei, who spoke from Nandi on Sunday.

Azimio Coalition, led by Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka have affirmed that the country can only thrive if the economy is stimulated, not by arbitrarily and consistently raising the tax burden.

“Kenyans must be prepared to give up their belts or what remains of them in the second wave of Kenya Kwanza taxes. The majority of tax measures in the  2024 Finance Bill are punitive in nature, with substantial consequences on Kenyans,” Kalonzo said.

Narc-Kenya Leader, Martha Karua also stated that there is no justification for additional punitive taxes on the already overburdened and neglected populace and Kenyans should not relent on fighting for the country's survival.

"The reality of the Finance Bill 2024 represents a bouquet of new pains for Kenyans and our question is, will the brutal regime and Parliament listen to the cries of the people with regard to this Bill?" Karua posed

“The administration needs to cut non-priority spending and we are giving examples of travel budget and planned spending through roadside declarations. They need to trim the hospitality budget and abolish offices of advisors at all levels," she added.

And on his part, Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale said he is confident that the National Assembly will unlock issues surrounding the Finance Bill.

“The responsibility to pass or amend the Finance Bill is not in the hands of the Senate, it is in the hands of the National Assembly. On the proposals being made for purposes of amending the Finance Bill, the Members of National Assembly must listen,” Khalwale said on his X, formerly twitter, on Monday.

He added: “This country is not going away, if you wanted to build a project in a period of, say, three years and it is forcing you to tax Mwananchi, there is nothing wrong with you spreading it out so that you can tax Mwananchi less.”

At the same time, Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri Archdiocese urged the MPs to only allow their conscience to be their guide while debating and voting for the bill.

He said it is wrong to not only disdain and disregard Kenyans opinion but also bulldoze ideas on them.

“Listen to the people and forget about political divisions and pressures. This is not about political persuasion you have, it is about the good of the welfare of Kenyans so let us vote and legislate for what at least serves more than 80 per cent of this country,” said Muheria.

During the public participation exercise, the private sector also gave their input, warning of dire consequences and negative economic disruptions should some of the tax measures be implemented.