How Azimio MPs plot to stop Finance Bill, but can they?


National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi chats with ODM leader Raila Odinga after a previous event at Orange House offices, in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja Coalition is laying down a plan to frustrate the controversial Finance Bill 2024 as opposition against some of the tax proposals contained in the Bill continues to mount.

But it is a daunting task that will take sweat, persuasion and luck for the Opposition to block a determined Kenya Kwanza from passing the Bill.

Already, Raila Odinga's ODM has directed all its elected members to vote against the Bill. Party insiders say the position of the party is to reject the Bill in its entirety unless key concerns contained in the Bill are addressed.

Last year, a similar attempt to frustrate the Finance Bill flopped despite a spirited effort by Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi-led MPs to block it.

The Standard has established the Opposition is pursuing plans to ensure that they effectively represent what they describe as the wishes of a majority of Kenyans who are opposed to the Bill.

At the apex of the efforts is Wandayi who has vowed to rally Opposition MPs to reject the bill even as they continue with civic education on why the Bill is bad for the country.

The Standard has also learned that the coalition's legal minds are exploring the legal gaps in some of the new tax proposals to build a possible suit should their attempts to stop them at the floor of the House fail.

Early in the week, a senior ODM official told The Standard that they were hoping some of the disgruntled MPs from Kenya Kwanza will join forces with them to reject the proposed taxes.

"The tax proposals are punitive and we know all right-thinking leaders will not hesitate to reject them," he said.

Wandayi said they are waiting to see if the Finance Committee will remove some of the contentious taxes that the Bill seeks to introduce.

He appealed to MPs from Kenya Kwanza side who have been vocal against the new tax measures to prove they are serious by rejecting the Bill.

"We want to see you in broad daylight in Parliament when the voting time comes. We want to see you, including those who are on record supporting Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, voting with us," he said.

Wandayi argued it is pointless to make noise in funerals about the proposed taxes and fail to reject them at the National Assembly.

The Minority leader said the only way to prove to Kenyans that they do not support the taxation measures is by rejecting the Finance Bill 2024.

"If they come back with the report that they have listened to the cry of Kenyans and the irreducible minimums of our leader Raila Odinga on those punitive taxes in the Finance bill, then we will talk. But if they come back with the tax recommendations still intact, then we will say a resounding no," said Wandayi.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo said they were prepared to face the ruling coalition and challenge the Bill.

He said failure to block last year's Finance Bill does not affect their resolve to stop the current one.

"Last year, the regime brought a bad Finance Bill and we rejected it but they bulldozed it through. We managed to challenge it in court and we succeeded partially by striking out part of it," said Amollo.

He claimed the new proposals are worse than last year's and said they are ready to challenge it through all possible means.

"I have instructions from my Rarieda people to reject the Finance Bill 2024. So even if they bulldoze this through once again, I will reject it," he said.

Unlike last year when the opposition built steam against a similar bill through street protests, insiders say the new strategy is focused on intense lobbying and critical thinking to help build a case.

Last week, ODM leader Raila Odinga called for a radical surgery of the tax proposals, saying Kenyans cannot be subjected to another round of suffering in the new financial year.

Raila also appealed to MPs to cushion Kenyans from punitive taxes and warned that various proposals contained in the Bill risk collapsing the economy which is already on its knees.

On Monday, Nyando MP Jared Okello said the government is not concerned about the suffering of Kenyans. He, however, admits that stopping the passing of the Bill is an uphill task.

President Ruto's ruling alliance enjoys a comfortable majority in Parliament and is keen to utilise it to push through its legislative proposals.

"Parliament has both minority and majority members. Minority will always be on the side of Kenyans who believe that the Finance Bill 2024 is punitive," Okello said.

Constitutional lawyer Clifford Obiero argues that Parliament has lost its credibility and believes that only a few MPs will stand up for Kenyans.

"Some have been compromised to publicly bend the allegiance to the ruling party. Others have never stood for anything and will be conspicuously absent during debate and voting while some will walk away pretending to protest while giving in to the ruling party's strength of numbers in the august House," he predicts.

Meanwhile, the business community in Nyandarua County has warned their MPs against supporting the Finance Bill.

Chairman John Githinji termed the Bill as oppressive.

Speaking in Ol Kalou Town, the traders said the passage of the Bill that proposes tax increments will adversely affect the economic well-being of many people.

“Nyandarua MPs should be warned that if they support passage of the Bill, then they will have gone against the wishes of the majority of the people,” he said.

Githinji said the Bill proposes the introduction of a raft of taxes among them, the “transfer of land from husband to wife” and even sanitary towels that are critical in keeping girls in school.

"This is a matter of great concern. Why should this be taxed? Leaders from this region should be the first to oppose it," he said.

Benson Lukalo, a business leader, warned that passage of the Bill with its current tax proposals would hurt ordinary people and cause many businesses to close since the taxes will eat into profits.

“Our MPs should obey what the ground is saying and shoot down the Bill. We expect them to articulate the voice of Wanjiku who has said no to passage of the Bill,” said Lukalo.

The Kenya Kwanza team, however, is optimistic that the tax proposals will sail through in the House and have criticized MPs who are opposed to them.

Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi said Ruto was building an economy that was ruined by his predecessor, President Uhuru Kenyatta's government.

“I want to tell you that we found empty coffers. We are now at 75 per cent in rebuilding the economy. Let us tell our people the truth," he said.

Nominated MP Joseph Wainaina said the Finance Bill will help the country run smoothly.

“The President has earned the name Zakayo because of his tax policies, but he will soon be called Joseph because, through his economic recovery strategies, the country will be a nation of plenty,” Wainaina said.

But Ugenya MP David Ochieng, a member of Kenya Kwanza through his Movement for Development and Growth Party (MDG), has vowed to reject the Bill.

He says that while he is a member of the President's coalition, he will focus on what he feels is good for his constituents.

Additional reporting by James Munyeki