Reject Finance Bill over high taxes, traders and civil societies tell MPs

Kemnac national chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Traders, civil society groups and Muslims have urged MPs from across the political divide to reject the Finance Bill 2024 for the sake of Kenyans.

Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council (Kemnac) claimed the Bill was worse than the previous one and will overburden Kenyans who are already grappling with the high cost of living if passed in its current form.

On Friday, Kemnac national chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao said MPs who support the Bill should be voted out in the next elections.

“MPs should put aside their political differences and vote out the Finance Bill 2024 because the document proposes very high taxes. The Bill is worse than 2023/24 one,” Ngao told a press conference in Mombasa.

At the same time, Sheikh Ngao took issue with wasteful spending in government particularly the local and foreign travel budget by the Office of the President that accumulated to Sh18.18billion in just nine months as flagged by the Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakong’o in her report.

He said instead of the president travelling frequently with a big delegation, he should reduce the number of foreign trips and use the Ministry of Foreign Affairs more.

“The travel budget is a huge cost to the taxpayer. It should be used to revive cashew nut, coconut and bixa farming in Coast,” he said.

Ngao also took issue with the heavy borrowing saying the move would result in increased taxation to settle foreign debts.

“We are concerned that the Kenya Kwanza administration has sustained foreign borrowing and increased domestic taxation. We also do not see what has been done with all these funds,” he said.

Worsening financial struggles

He said Muslims are opposed to any decision by the Government to join the war against the Yemen Houthis in the Red Sea. According to Sheikh Ngao, joining such a war could put Kenya in conflict with Yemen despite enjoying good relations for many years.

“If Kenya joins the war on Houthis, Kenyan Muslims will be profiled as it happened at the height of the war against Al Shabaab which saw a number of Muslims killed or forced to disappear,” he argued.

And the Under the Okoa Uchumi umbrella, civil society organisations warned that some of the proposals in the Bill will exacerbate economic hardships for Kenyans, worsening their financial struggles.

They are against the removal of VAT exemptions on essentials like bread and milk, coupled with a regressive 2.5 per cent tax on motor vehicles.  

Speaking in Nairobi on Thursday, Cornelius Oduor of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) stressed that the tax hikes, combined with existing economic pressures, will further diminish the quality of life for many Kenyans.

“Rising taxes will only threaten essential services and freedoms. Budget cuts in vital sectors contrast Executive expansions, showing how the government has failed to prioritize citizen’s welfare,” said Oduor.  

He also criticised the lack of genuine public participation in the budget process, labelling the government’s approach as tokenistic and ineffective.

In Machokos, small-scale traders said despite a pledge by the President and his team during the campaigns that the UDA government would lower prices of essential commodities and soften lives of suffering Kenyans, things are now the opposite. They said despite public participation that saw majority of Kenyans opposing the bill, some MPs were bound to pass it through compromise.

Voters’ wrath

 “This also goes along with the President who promised us many things during campaigns that if he assents the Bill to law, that they will take their votes (traders) elsewhere,” said businesses man Peter Kioko.

  Speaking on behalf of the traders, Kioko urged all Kenyans to ensure MPs who will vote for the bill do not make a comeback in Parliament in 2027.

  “l am a staunch supporter of President Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza government and everyone in Machakos knows this, but if he does not save suffering Kenyans from the Bill, l will have no choice but to part ways and seek safety elsewhere,” said Kioko.

He said despite Kanu supporters aligning to Azimio in the Ukambani region, he personally chose to support President Ruto after convincing him through his ideologies but to his surprise, what he promised has been watered down.

Kioko said he will not shy or fear to speak the truth saying that the current state of living was unbearable and that Kenya now needs a leader who will safeguard their destiny.

 “The increasing tax exploitation in Kenya is squeezing lower and middle-class citizens to poverty something which all Kenyans should rise against and rebuke,” he said.

 He, however, said there was still a window for the President and his administration to reform in areas of tax and restore Kenyans confidence. The traders said their businesses have been crippled due with many people unable to feed their families.

 “We urge Kenyans of all walks of life to join hands to save Kenya from sinking through punitive taxes,” he said.

[Patrick Beja, Harrison Ngola and Victor Nzuma]