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Will proposed tax measures sail through Parliament?

Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah debates the impeachment of Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi on May 13, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The performance of members of the National Assembly is facing another prospect of public scrutiny as criticisms over tax proposals contained in the Finance Bill 2024 begin to gather momentum.

Observers are painting gloom for Kenyans and believe the current National Assembly is a toothless dog that will not come to the rescue of taxpayers.

They believe the majority of the MPs are dancing to the tune of the Executive and will pass the document without a second thought, even after some of them admitted that they passed the Finance Bill 2023, without giving it much thought.

Coupled with an outnumbered opposition, pundits believe, President William Ruto’s Executive will have its way as soon as the document is presented for the Third Reading.

Communications expert Barack Muluka says Parliament has been taken hostage by an overbearing unipolar superpower executive.

“It cannot bark. It cannot bite,” says Muluka.

He argues that the Executive has made it clear that taxes will be on the ascendancy for the next few years, and a neutered Parliament will do nothing, apart from a few discordant opposition voices.

This is happening as various stakeholders begin to unleash a chorus of pleas to the MPs to come to the rescue of Kenyans and not endorse laws that will cripple the economy.

They claimed that some members of the opposition, too, have a problem with picking sides and are likely to crumble to a Kenya Kwanza wave to endorse proposals, in disregard of the wishes of their constituents.

On Saturday, Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s foot soldiers led by ODM chairman John Mbadi vowed to rally their members to reject the bill.

Speaking in Migori, Mbadi, Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed described the new proposals as an insult to Kenyans struggling to make ends meet.

However, it remains to be seen if their threats will barrow the strong support Kenya Kwanza has assembled in the National Assembly to ensure that all their policies slip through.

“What we have observed is that parliamentarians vote along party lines as opposed to material support. It is a sorry state for the country.

‘‘Now we have multiple taxation over some items like a motor vehicle,” says Siaya Speaker George Okode.

“We have no parliamentary independence.

‘‘They will listen to what the Executive says,” adds Clifford Obiero, a lawyer.

In the House, Kenya Kwanza enjoys a significant majority and hopes to benefit from a group of opposition legislators who support the proposals.

“The current Parliament cannot be relied upon to defend Kenyans. The decision they made on the Finance Bill, 2023  and the Linturi Mithika impeachment motion is an indication of their performance,” says communication researcher Dr Charles Nyambuga.

Already, a section of MPs have thrown their weight behind the proposals and claim they are vital to transforming the country’s future.

In opposition ranks, Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris is among those vouching for the proposals.

On Saturday, however, several Azimio MPs claimed they will not allow the ‘greed’ of their counterparts in Kenya Kwanza to endorse the document they believe will hurt all Kenyans.

“I have already seen that it is a bad bill and we should reject it in totality,” said Mbadi.

Junet described his colleagues in Kenya Kwanza as the problem in the country and claimed Kenyans should be ready to take action against them.

Separately, ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya led another troop of Azimio MPs to build up steam against the bill.

Speaking at a funeral in Kakamega County, Oparanya and several other Azimio leaders criticised the Kenya Kwanza government for imposing heavy taxes on essential goods.

“They call it the 2024 Finance Bill, but for us, it’s the ‘Bread 2024 Finance Bill.’ While we understand the importance of taxes in running the country and funding development, the government must consider the impact of these taxes on its citizens,” said Oparanya.

Kakamega Women Representative Elsie Muhanda and Butere MP Tindi Mwale pledged to vehemently oppose the bill.

 “We cannot stand idly by as this government continues to harass and overtax Kenyans.

‘‘As elected leaders, it’s our duty to protect the people who entrusted us with their votes. We will mobilise fellow lawmakers to stand against this punitive bill,” declared Mwale.

 Muhanda questioned the rationale behind taxing bread, emphasizing that Kenyans are already burdened by excessive taxation.

 “The proposal to tax bread, a basic necessity, is unjust to Kenyans. As leaders, we stand with the people and will oppose these punitive levies imposed by the Kenya Kwanza government,” affirmed Muhanda.

Coast MPs have vowed to rally opposition against the Bill but admit it is a herculean task.

They told the Budget and Appropriation Committee of the National Assembly that stalled water, roads, electricity, health, and education projects have been striped the funds to complete them.

Coast Parliamentary Group chairman Wundanyi MP Danson Mwashako said some projects like the Mzima water would benefit Mombasa, Mombasa, and Kilifi.

Ruto promised to factor in the Sh30 billion Mzima II water pipeline project into the 2024/25 budget and ensure the 50-50 per cent sharing of revenue from Tsavo National Park with Taita Taveta County.

Other planned road projects include the Sh2.2 billion Bura-Mgange-Werugha-Wundanyi-Mbale-Msau-Mto-wamwagodi road, which passes through Wundanyi and Mwatate.

Another is the Sh6 billion Taveta-Njukini-Elasit-Loitokitok road, which he said would boost agricultural production and trade in Taveta sub-county.

[Report by Harold Odhiambo, Anne Atieno, Benard Lusigi, Olivia Odhiambo and Renson Mnyamwezi]

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