Members of Parliament face major test over Finance Bill vote as Executive, public dig in

Traders at Mbale market in Vihiga county displaying dryed maize which they are selling at Sh150 per 2Kilograms. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The Finance Bill, 2023 will be a litmus test for the 13th Parliament's given the opposition it has attracted and a president determined to raise funds through increased taxation.

MPs are under pressure from the government to pass the controversial Bill, with Kenya Kwanza leaders feeling more heat, that is set to be tabled in the National Assembly on Thursday for the second reading before the Finance and National Planning Committee tables the report from the recently concluded public participation on the proposed law.

President William Ruto's hand in directing how the MPs should vote raises concerns about the extent of Executive influence over the Legislature.

Speaking in Narok on Sunday, President Ruto cautioned MPs not to vote against the Bill.

He labelled leaders opposed to the Bill as the enemy of the youth who stand to benefit from the new proposals.

“It should be known on which side the MPs will cast their vote. I am waiting for an MP who will vote to challenge the government’s plan to give the young people who voted for them jobs,” said Ruto.

Speaking at the same event, National Assembly Majority Whip Silvanus Osoro said that nothing can stop the wishes of the government and he will lobby MPs to pass the Bill.

“We will pass this thing. As the Chief Whip in the National Assembly, I said it and I will repeat that the government cannot lose,” said Osoro.

The Majority Whip said during the debate in the House they will introduce some amendments to the proposed law.

“It is at the committee of the whole House that members will have an opportunity to make amendments. We have heard the youth who have raised issues on the tax on content creation and we will consider some amendments,” said Osoro.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua scoffed at the opposition's rejection of the Bill, saying that as the minority in the House they will not create any roadblocks for the smooth passage of the proposed law.

“Osoro you do what you have said you will do. All this noise will come to an end,” said Gachagua.

A section of Kenya Kwanza leaders have also issued threats to those who plan to reject the Bill.

“Any Kenya Kwanza MP who shall vote against the Finance Bill 2023 should face the full force of party disciplinary mechanisms. You cannot play opposition politics in government, party position is supreme in any discipline democracy,” tweeted Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.

Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi in supporting the government's satnd wondered those opposing it are not talking about the taxes that have been removed only focusing on those that will go higher. "The Sh2,500 is going to benefit the common man. Those opposing it were in government and will be embarrassed by the strides the country will take," he said yesterday.

However some MPs have vowed to square it out and are egging colleagues not to succumb to pressure from the president and his deputy.

Busia Senator Okiya Omtata, who has filed a case in court seeking orders to declare parts of the bill unconstitutional said threats will not work: “MPs are independent and they should be able to vote by their conscience. They were not elected by the President, they were elected by the taxpayers. Let them vote the way the taxpayer want them to vote. I ask them to disregard any threats.”

Mumias East MP Peter Salasya too did not take kindly to the directions given by the Executive. Vowing to shoot it down, Salasya took to Twitter to declare his stand: "I will not vote for the Bill... I have not liked the way Ruto is treating MPs. Ruto is operating as if we are being paid from his own pocket, he is not the first person to run an economy.” 

Githunguri MP Gathoni Muchomba, who has stood out as an MP in the president's party who has voiced concerns about the Bill, yesterday told The Standard she will oppose it regardlesss of the pressure.

"I will not be cowed by threats and intimidations to support the Finance Bill. It will go down in history that I rejected the oppressive taxes. I am a student of Wangari Maathai who once told me that if trees had mouths they could speak against environmental and social injustices; that I should speak about those vices so that when I go to heaven, if there is, I am not mistaken for a tree," she said.

However political scientist Amukoa Anangwe argued that the president's decision to whip MPs is neither new nor unique to Kenyan politics.

Prof Anangwe said that Ruto's move does not hint at any compromise in the separation of powers between the Legislature and the Executive but the nature of the dicey relationship between party politics, the Legislature and the Executive.

"It looks like a fused system but it's not. The president is not using the Executive but the party. At critical junctures, governments have attempted to whip their side to vote favourably in critical Bills using party mechanism," he said.

The political scientist argued that such scenarios present a common dilemma for MPs who are sometimes split on heeding the call of the party or falling in line with the people.

Governance expert Tom Mboya said that MPs are representatives of those that elected them, through their respective parties.

"In a democracy such as ours, MPs should exercise their legislative role according to their conscience and for the benefit of constituents and Kenyans at large," said Mboya.

He explained that it will be unfortunate if legislators neglect the interest of their constituents and act at the orders of the executive.

The Finance Bill, 2023 proposes a range taxes aimed at increasing revenue to fund the government's Sh3.6 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2023/2024.

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