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Raila-Ruto talks on ice as team seeks time to consult on cost of living measures

Azimio leader Raila Odinga wih President William Ruto. [File, Standard]

Disagreements on policy interventions over the high cost of living temporarily stopped the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) from writing their final report.

National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) co-chairmen Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichungwa said other contentious issues they had not agreed upon include taxation, especially on the housing fund, a move that forced the team to stop their deliberations to allow further consultations. 

“We have had extensive discussions and deliberations on issues touching on the high cost of living and agreed on a number of things but we have found the need to make further consultations on a number of proposals with the National Treasury,” said Ichungwa. 

Policy timelines

While defending the need to take time for consultations, Ichungwa explained that some of the proposals to tackle the high cost of living were immediate, medium and had far reaching consequences requiring administrative and legislative policy framework.

“We have agreed on some proposals especially those that are immediate but we are yet to agree on those that are of medium and long term interventions in nature,” Ichungwa noted. 

Kalonzo said it is the Kenya Kwanza side that sought more time to deliberate on how to tackle the high cost of living maintaining that the matter must be addressed by the committee and that Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u must explain issues that affect the agenda. 

“It is not that talks have collapsed we have just taken a break to allow the members of Kenya Kwanza leaders to consult over the issue of the high cost of living.

“And we must address the issue because Kenyans are hurting. The issue of people walking in and out is normal but we must address how to tackle the issue,” he told The Standard on the phone. 

The leaders said they are within the timelines to submit the report to the President. The deadline is November 26. 

Separately, Azimio party leader, Raila Odinga had said he had chosen silence despite the rising cost of living so as to give the talks a chance.

While responding to public’s outcry on why he is mute when things were deteriorating, Raila, during a function in Westlands, Nairobi, said he would not want to disrupt the bipartisan talks.

“I am silent to give time to bipartisan outcomes. We will give direction after the talks,” he said.

Truce talks

Raila maintained that the truce talks must address the high cost of living, electoral injustices and party infidelity for its approval by the opposition.

However, Orange Democratic Party Secretary General Edwin Sifuna, promised to shoot down the report if it will not include modalities of easing the cost of living.

Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi insisted that the report must address the cost of living adding “we want the cost of living to come down”.

The impasse comes less than a week after the committee concluded its deliberations and announced it had reached a consensus on all five issues including the cost of living.

Speaking last Thursday after the final deliberations at Bomas, Kalonzo said Azimio’s core priority will be on the cost of living.

“We will be going to Stoni Athi to iron out any outstanding issue the best way we can and you know for us in Azimio, it is the cost of living,” said Kalonzo.

According to the sources, Azimio was pressing for a reduction in fuel-related taxes, advocating for an eight per cent VAT rate and the abolition or reduction of the Housing Levy.

Conversely, Kenya Kwanza, citing commitments with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was reluctant to revise the 16 per cent VAT on fuel. Despite Kenya Kwanza’s flexibility in reducing the Road Maintenance and anti-adulteration levies from Sh18 to Sh15. Other proposals faced strong opposition.

Speaking after the closed-door meeting yesterday, Ichung’wa and Kalonzo assured the public that discussions are progressing steadily, particularly on matters concerning the cost of living.

“We’ve made commendable progress, not solely on the cost of living but on various issues we’ve identified and those brought forward. Extensive deliberations have taken place regarding the cost of living, and while we’ve agreed on several aspects, we find the need for further consultations,” said Ichung’wa.

Ichung’wa outlined their upcoming engagements, indicating plans to engage Prof Ndung’u on Wednesday next week. Acknowledging the impending deadline of November 26, he highlighted the committee’s aim to have a draft report to consider as they settle on the “small issues we are yet to agree on”.

“There are proposals on the table, principally about those that touch on taxation and it was something like the Housing Fund, which would also fall within that ambit. And it’s those issues that want to engage the National Treasury further before we can make a final determination,” he added.

Kalonzo emphasized the importance of the Treasury’s involvement in resolving the cost of living challenges and that the committee remains committed to confronting the issue of the cost of living “head-on”.

“At this time, we all know the country is crying out for help so that’s why we have asked for further consultations and it is very normal in discussions of this kind, in serious negotiations for people to say hey, let’s consult our seniors,” said Kalonzo

“We’ve set our sights on Wednesday [November 22] to convene for an hour to seek the solutions,”he added.

Ichungw’a stated that the deliberations are expected to come up with multi-tiered recommendations targeting various timelines to ensure a holistic approach to resolving the pertinent issues surrounding the cost of living.

Commitment

“Our progress and the ongoing consultations signify our commitment to offering recommendations that span different timelines - immediate, medium-term, and long-term solutions. These encompass a spectrum of interventions, including administrative, policy, and legislative measures,” said Ichung’wa.

Two weeks ago The National Treasury was accused of fueling inflation and the high cost of living through exaggerated budgeting and ghost workers by the Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o.

 She also cited a number of issues including duplicating public service pay and lacking a register of national debts.

During his State of the Nation address to Parliament on Thursday, last week, President William Ruto saluted the Opposition leaders for agreeing to embrace the dialogue as he urged them to continue uniting Kenyans.

The dialogue, he said, was being held in the spirit of goodwill, fraternity and commitment to the national interest and the welfare of the nation.

“The national dialogue has enabled leaders from our various political divides to find a common ground on many of issues affecting the nation,” he said.

Additional Reporting by Okumu Modachi

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