Ruto wins big as Housing Bill sails through

President William Ruto during the laying of the foundation stone for the 320 Nyeri Blue Valley Affordable Housing units. [PCS]

President William Ruto scored a crucial win yesterday after Members of Parliament passed the Affordable Housing Bill, 2023, which introduces taxes on Kenyans that will fund his pet project.

The Bill, which seeks to anchor the 1.5 per cent housing levy on both salaried and income-earning Kenyans in law, was given the nod by the National Assembly yesterday and is now headed to the Senate where, if adopted, it will be forwarded to President Ruto for assent.

This means that should senators vote like their National Assembly counterparts, the controversial 1.5 percent tax which had been declared unconstitutional by the courts, will be re-introduced.

The win, coming just days after Kenya Kwanza Alliance held its parliamentary group meeting in Naivasha, did not however come without contestation.

This was manifested through a walk-out staged by approximately 20 Azimio MPs from Parliament during the debate of the Bill.

And in a press conference, the opposition leaders accused the President of playing puppet master by coercing MPs to vote for the Bill despite its unpopularity and further accused their Kenya Kwanza counterparts of being “voting machines” that voted in a “robotic” manner.

They were also irked by the fact that their attempts to contribute and introduce amendments to the Bill on the floor of the House were thwarted.

Their issues with the Bill stemmed from the re-introduction of 1.5 per cent levy to be charged from employees’ gross salary, the rushing of the passage of the Bill by Kenya Kwanza and the lack of clarity on how future disputes involving land will be resolved given that the government had taken public land and converted it into private land in order to build the houses.

“What Kenyans are witnessing is dictatorship by President Ruto,” said nominated MP and ODM chairman John Mbadi.

“He (Ruto) is determined to push it down on Kenyans, whether Kenyans like it or not. The effect of his actions will be that KRA officers will now be pounding on doors of mama mbogas demanding for tax that even they don’t know where it will come from,” he added.

Mbadi further hinted at the opposition’s return to the courts and calls for mass protests following the move by Kenya Kwanza. Minority Whip Junet Mohamed accused Parliament of being at the whims of the Executive and warned against passing of Bills by members without interrogation.

“We refuse to sit and participate in a rubber-stamping process… If Parliament continues doing business this way, then we are going to have a problem in the near future,” said the Suna East MP. 

He also revealed that a section of Azimio MPs had been coerced to vote in favour of the Bill lest projects in their constituencies were stopped.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo faulted the majority side for rushing the Bill, noting that it had been adopted albeit with a lot of grey areas that would be sources of conflict in the near future.

Amollo was concerned with the national government’s need to involve itself in the building of houses instead of shifting the role to counties.

“In good faith we had proposed several amendments but it has become clear to us that the instructions they have is to reject anything that has come from us. The process that is going on is robotic, it’s meaningless, it’s pre-judged,” he said.

But during the debate, National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichungwah hailed the Bill as the solution to unemployment in the country and further chided the opposition for standing in its way.

“This Bill is about employment creation, it is about wealth creation. It’s about helping Kenyans to access affordable homes, creating new homeowners and therefore generating new wealth in our country and helping to grow our economy that was destroyed by those who are telling us today that when they look back they feel like crying,” said Ichungwah.

Finance and National Planning Committee chair Kimani Kiuria said: “The land issue has been addressed. We have provided that all transfer of land from public land to private will follow the Land Act.”

Notably, under the amended Bill, affordable home buyers will also no longer be required to part with a 10 per cent deposit after the Molo MP-led committee rejected the proposal.

Individuals seeking to be allocated affordable housing units had been required to provide proof of a requisite deposit of at least 10 per cent of the value of the affordable housing unit being applied for.

The deletion of the clause was premised on the fact that Kenyans, during public participation, expressed their fear that the provision would hinder a huge number of Kenyans from participating in the programme.

The Bill was necessitated by the judgment of the High Court delivered on November 28, 2023, on the Constitutional Petitions that concluded that the Affordable Housing Levy violated the provisions of the Constitution since it lacked a comprehensive legal framework.

[Additional reporting by Ndung’u Gachane]