Azimio's herculean plot to shoot down tax proposals

Azimio team led by their Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi (centre) address a press conference at parliament buildings. [ Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition's think tanks have gone back to the drawing board to craft a formula they intend to deploy to sink Kenya Kwanza's controversial Finance Bill, 2023.

The Bill proposes a raft of tax changes aimed at expanding the tax base and raising revenues to finance the government's ambitious Sh3.6 trillion budget for the 2023/2024 financial year.

The Sunday Standard has established the Raila Odinga-led coalition is burning the midnight oil and scheming on how to counter the political juggernaut President William Ruto has assembled in the National Assembly to ensure the Bill goes through unscathed.

Sources within the coalition told Sunday Standard that frustrating the Bill is a top priority for the coalition and is among the topics that will form part of their discussions during their Parliamentary Group meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Among the strategies the coalition has placed on its cards include building public discontent with the Bill, preparing a legal challenge in court in case it sails through, shaming MPs supporting the Bill, intense mobilisation of MPs to reject the Bill and mass action.

In the National Assembly, Raila's think tanks intimated to Sunday Standard that they will insist that the Speaker adopts Individual Open Voting. This, they say, will enable the electorate to know the MPs who are supporting plans to make their lives difficult.

The coalition has fewer numbers in the House and it will be interesting to see how they will force through a collapse of the Bill. Analysts appear to have written their chances off while other observers believe only mass protests can be the masterstroke to push the government into a corner.

Yesterday, a senior Azimio official and one of Raila's think tanks said they will do everything to ensure that the Bill does not sail through even if it means employing unorthodox but political means.

"We are all in agreement that the Bill must not pass through. We are doing this for the sake of Kenyans who are burdened by high cost of living and we are ready to counter the Bill when the time comes," he said.

The leader said a lean team is exploring all political and legal solutions to the threat the Bill presents and will present recommendations to Azimio leadership to help counter Kenya Kwanza.

This comes as President Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza camp continue to lobby their troops to ensure that they speak in one voice and build public support for the Bill.

The ruling alliance is numerically stronger in Parliament and will be banking their hopes on it to ensure that the Bill goes through seamlessly. They are also keen to build public support for the proposals but appear to be struggling on that front as stakeholders continue to criticise some proposals in the Bill, including the 3 per cent housing levy.

Last week, Ruto met the Kenya Kwanza Parliamentary Group at State House and rallied them to support his development agenda as well as rally support for the Bill.

Cabinet and Principal Secretaries are also on an overdrive to build support for the Bill by pointing out the benefits of some of its proposals.

But, some proposals, including the housing levy, continue to attract criticism from various sectors. Raila's camp, on the other hand, has turned the controversies into a political weapon against the Bill.

Yesterday, however, his troops claimed the passage of the Bill will not be a walk in the park. Several leaders in Raila's camp told The Sunday Standard that they have already explored all possible scenarios and the remedies that they will deploy to frustrate the Bill.

Rarieda MP and the co-chair of the Azimio-Kenya Kwanza bipartisan talks Otiende Amollo said they will oppose the Bill by "all means and ways".

"We urge the Speaker to allow Individualised Open Voting so that the people may know whether their MP is sensitive to their suffering or not," says Otiende.

He is among the team Azimio is relying on to push through a political solution to the high cost of living.

Minority leader in the National Assembly Opiyo Wandayi says the coalition wants the National Treasury to withdraw the Bill as currently crafted. It, however, remains to be seen if Treasury will heed to their calls.

Wandayi is optimistic their efforts will pay off and maintained that the Bill does not have public support.

"Majority of Kenyans including players all the key sectors of the economy have unanimously rejected the Finance Bill 2023. The National Treasury has, therefore, no option but to withdraw the bill as currently crafted," says Wandayi.

Other members of the coalition also told The Sunday Standard that they will seek legal redress should the Bill be forced through in Parliament.

The coalition is relying on lawyers in its fold to identify some of the loopholes in the Bill and how they can successfully mount a successful legal challenge to block its implementation should their attempts to block it in Parliament fail.

According to Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang, Azimio will move to court to block the Bill should Parliament pass it.

"We will go to court to challenge the Bill if it is approved by Parliament," Kajwang said.

Kajwang' said the Bill will raise taxes on petroleum products which are key for production in many sectors of economy.

He said rural economies depend much on petroleum products hence taxes should not increase.

His comments were echoed by Kitutu Chache South MP Anthony Kibagendi who claimed that they will frustrate the Bill because it does not support the immediate concerns of Kenyans.

"The proposals in the Finance Bill, 2023 are a demonstration that the Kenya Kwanza government isn't interested in reducing the cost of living. They are determined to destroy existing sustainable jobs in exchange for imaginary temporary jobs. They want to ensure the cost of transport in Kenya triples, which means cost of goods and services will skyrocket."

Although the coalition has embarked on intense public mobilisation against the Bill, it remains a herculean task to amass numbers to reject the Bill in Parliament.

In ODM, MPs considered as rebels who are now allied President Ruto appear to have a soft spot for the proposals. Should they opt to vote alongside Kenya Kwanza MPs, Raila's numbers will suffer a huge blow.

Yesterday, Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda, who supports the government, said he will decide how to vote once the Bill is presented in parliament.

He argued that some of the things being talked about might not be in the final document to be tabled in the House.

"This is a smart government and it will come up with such proposals to test how the public would react," said Ochanda.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech is confident the Finance Bill will not fail.

" We do not have the luxury of failing on this. We had a Parliamentary Group meeting and we were taken through every detail of the Finance Bill 2023," he said.

Koech added: " We started the PG at 7:30 am and finished at 3:30 pm. This was purely a presentation of different sectors from where the Bill was largely drawn and the wisdom of why we have the document as it is."

According to the UDA MP, in the entire document, all the glaring questions that each member had particularly the Housing Fund were addressed and they arrived at a compromise, after President William Ruto explained to them all the scenarios.

He is confident Azimio will not torpedo the Bill because the government understand its importance as Kenya Kwanza.

"We will lobby, convince and speak to our colleagues to understand where we are coming from. I know we have the numbers but that is not the issue. The issue is to have everyone embrace the idea. This thing is part of Kenya Kwanza manifesto and we have to implement and deliver. We will give the President the necessary support and make sure it succeeds."

Nyandarua Woman MP Faith Gitau, on her part, said: "I support the Bill and will mobilize other legislatures. This is the only way that we can revive the economy of this country. Without resources, the country cannot move forward. We can raise money through our own source of revenue without borrowing from other countries."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Ol' Jororok MP Michael Muchira.

"My people have given me the go-ahead to support the Bill and have the country can move forward. I will vote yes."

Some observers too believe Azimio is chasing shadows in their efforts to crumble the Bill. They argue the numbers Ruto has amassed in parliament will ensure the Bill sails through

According to political commentator Mark Bichachi, Kenyans should tighten their belts and prepare for what the Bill proposes.

"They have no chance unless they convince Kenya Kwanza to vote with them. The Bill is a fait accompli. No one can stop it. Kenyans should accept and tighten their belts as they have been advised to do," says Bichachi.

Clifford Otieno, a constitutional lawyer, claimed that the only option the coalition has is to challenge operationalisation of the Bill in court or call for mass protests to pile pressure on the President not to assent to it.

"They have no chance at all to frustrate it in Parliament if the government is who has the numbers in parliament is hell bent to pass it. The only option they have is it stop its operations in court," says Otieno.

Although the coalition faces a herculean task to block the Bill, members of the coalition have embarked on an intense public campaign against the Bill.

Azimio principals are also leading a charge to rally their troops to reject the Bill. Sources say the coalition will also be seeking to convince MPs from Kenya Kwanza on the need to remove some of the proposals in the Bill.

On Saturday, Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o alongside several ODM politicians urged the coalition's MPs to reject the Bill even as they rallied public discontent against the proposals.

"When your hungry it's only a sadist who can come to you and say he wants to build you a house," he said during a requiem mass for the victims of the recent tragic accident along Kendu-Homabayhighway.

[Harold Odhiambo, Olivia Odhiambo, Erick Abuga, James Omoro and Isaiah Gwengi]

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