President Ruto, the writing is on the wall on taxes

Tuesday, June 11th, 2024 06:30 | By
President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi.
President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi. PHOTO/@StateHouseKenya/X.

The resistance to the Finance Bill 2024 rose to a crescendo last week. On Monday, the National Assembly’s Finance and National Planning Committee held a public hearing at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC). Fireworks were expected from a thoroughly riled-up citizenry!

As the public hearings so clearly demonstrate, there is no constituency from which there is any support for the taxation proposals in the finance bill. The only people pushing it are government mandarins exhorting Kenyans to squeeze themselves harder so that the government can meet its budget. Not a single one of them wants to lead the way by taking a pay cut, or finding ways to shed wastage and delay non-essential projects under their dockets. No, it is only long-suffering Kenyans who must tighten their belts further. This is so tone-deaf!

Kenyans are exhausted by the government’s insatiable thirst for cooking up new taxes. They see deteriorating services every which way they look. The economy is still in ICU. Pending bills are not being paid. Capitation for schools is overly delayed. Yet, this government has since day one collected a record amount of taxes from jerking up compliance and squeezing Kenyans harder.

Even the World Bank is now warning that the tax plans are unrealistic, unpredictable, and will not achieve the set targets, undermining the entire budget process. The bank warns further that the tax plans are creating uncertainty for business, making it difficult to plan for the future, and demonstrating the government’s lack of commitment to long-term economic stability. No wonder the government has refused to commit itself to any economic recovery plan.

President Ruto was reportedly set to meet with members of his Kenya Kwanza coalition on Monday to discuss, among other things, the contentious finance bill, at a time when the whole country is in ferment and in a very foul mood.

Will he choose to listen to the cries of the citizenry or the hardliners in his party and push through the highly unpopular bill?

Flashback: In December 3, 1991, President Daniel arap Moi faced thousands of Kanu members from across the country whom he had summoned to Moi Sports Complex, Kasarani. The issue at hand was the fate of single-party rule.

The meeting was preceded by countrywide public hearings led by then Vice President George Saitoti, where Kenyans had thoroughly denounced single-party rule, and overwhelmingly demanded the reinstatement of multiparty politics. Saitoti’s committee chose to ignore the people’s views in its report.

Against the dismissive rhetoric of Kanu sycophants and diehards, President Moi told them that single-party rule had run its course, and Kenya had to drastically change its politics. For the sake of the country, he did what history demanded of him at that point in time. The country moved on!

Sometimes leaders decide to be dogmatic instead of pragmatic. They end up losing the people. And they never know when this happens. They simply wake up one day to find that their support evaporated long ago, and they begin a desperate rearguard battle to claw back support. Those people never come back. Retired President Uhuru Kenyatta can relate.

President Ruto is caught in the horns of this dilemma. He can decide to put the interests of the country first, listen to the cries of Kenyans, and drastically recalibrate the finance bill to stop it from being so punitive. Or he can decide to push the bill through regardless, using the tyranny of numbers he enjoys in Parliament.

The lessons of history are stark. Those who fail to heed those lessons usually find themselves subjects of the lessons of that very history. For President Ruto, the writing is on the wall!

— The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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