The task before MPs: Time to drop vacuity and attempt augustness

Aerial view of Parliament Buildings. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Today, June 25, 2024, is Day Five of the Seven Days of Rage announced following last week’s initial round of Gen Z protests ostensibly focused on the Finance Bill 2024 but largely an expression of frustration directed specifically at the Ruto administration that essentially promised young people (hustlers) a different life from what it is serving them.

We do not need to go too far back into history to understand the administration’s response; first as tragedy, then as farce.  

Young people were killed and brutalised by our antiquated police force, not service, while leaders stood on podiums to berate “posh kids” or link them to terror groups.  There was, and still is, a frustration that there is no single person to blame, hence the abductions. 

Then we had, ironically on a Sunday, a veritable Saul to Paul moment.  Our leaders did an about-turn and proclaimed Gen Z the future of our democracy; a “tribeless” democracy in which young Kenyans have a greater say in how this great country is run.  Let us all agree that was good. 

But it is the comments these leaders made that are more interesting.

“We shall engage the youth to understand their issues; we will arrange a dialogue between Gen Z and the leadership”.

Hello?  First, Gen Z is not a person or party to have a backroom negotiation with. It is clearly a collective of voices. Second, how is it time for dialogue when that is what happened in 2022?  This is not a sudden transformational moment for Kenya, it is actually an accountability one for Kenya Kwanza. 

Here is the real farce from another comment.

“We shall make sure we involve Gen Z in developing next year’s Finance Bill”.

Hello, again? The quickest way to unpack this statement is to conclude that this year is Finance Bill was not only exclusionary but discriminatory.  And from all of these comments, doesn’t this suggest the bill lacks serious constitutional arms and legs? 

Let us treat this as useful background when the National Assembly convenes as a Committee of the Whole House to consider this bill on a clause-by-clause basis.  It is not possible to digitally access the day’s Order Paper but one presumes this is the major matter on the agenda, except possibly for safe escape routes like underground tunnels if they make an unpopular decision. 

It is as amusing and bemusing that, today, our leaders run from their decisions, then, their people. 

Meanwhile, the Day Five agenda referred to at the beginning has items including #OccupyParliament and #TotalShutdownKenya, a national strike and a day off for all hard-working Kenyans. To repeat, our leadership would be well advised to take this more seriously than they currently are. 

This includes our budget-making members of parliament (MPs) who have allegedly done what looks like Saul to Paul in reverse (Paul to Saul) from being our representatives to being voting ATMs.   It also includes the “House on the Hill” where Hill increasingly sounds like the acronym for Hubris, Incompetence, Lies and Looting.  This is why we have an accountability moment today.

These are difficult words to put down.  But they are part of my free speech rights and freedoms demanded, and commanded, by our Constitution.  This administration needs to do far better. 

Especially since, as I will continually insist, they have, on paper, a brilliant transformation agenda for Kenya.  I have called it a daring policy adventure primarily focused on structural economic change.  What the Gen Z protests are essentially saying, and what the Finance Bill’s public participation did not say, is that we are increasingly looking at selfish primitive accumulation hidden behind tax increases when social media is awash with memes on where the money is going and flashy “bling bling” all over our leadership space while we are not proactive on drought or floods. 

Now here is the real point.  I have no idea how #OccupyParliament will go today.  But I do know what MPs need to be thinking about as they go through this bill.  Today is the day when personal interest means political responsibility.  For them, we have an “Ekeh” moment when private good and public good mean one and the same thing. Which leaves them with three basic options. 

The first is to line up and approve the bill. They will be doing this in a broken budget system where we reportedly have two finance bill reports only one of which has been tabled. To be clear, these are committee reports on public participation on the bill, not the actual bill in its original or amended form.Further, they are not the comprehensive revenue bill we need. Also, we have nothing close to reporting on impacts, especially economic, of Finance Act 2023. 

It is also surprising that we have a bill before us that doesn’t bother to assess winners and losers. 

Which is why the second option is to tinker with the bill through all manner of amendments.  This is equally hopeless since we end up with the same problems, predating Kenya Kwanza, that we have always had – a tax regime that is as unpredictable as it is parasitic.  In other words, unfair tax burdens, economic discrimination and from the theft, inefficient to wrong use of funds. Don’t be surprised if we end up here – a bill with more loopholes than an overused fishing net. 

Here is the third option. Ditch the bill.  But don’t just throw it away. Step away and make it make better sense.  It is correct that Kenya needs far improved domestic resource mobilisation, which is what taxes are.  But it is also correct that Kenya deserves a better economy. It can never be the other way around, that taxes build the economy, not that the economy is the base for taxes. In the context of our debt trap, what this means is better balance, and less waste and theft. 

Indeed, this is where Gen Z is walking. The 2024 Finance Bill is the correct lightning rod they are pointing us to. To resist increased taxes when we are not fixing our uncontrolled leadership appetite for wanton, wasteful spending and theft, disguised as cash bundles in harambees that we banished a generation ago, and the shameless “haute couture” in today’s leadership wardrobes and accessories.  Gen Z is rudely reminding us, “it is the economy, stupid!”  With a brand new question – “account for the economy, not just the government”. This is higher accountability. 

Where the economy is not just numbers, but actual people – across every one of our generations.  I guess we will wait to see what MPs do today.  I read that Day Seven of this protest goes to the hill.