Finance Bi*l a big test of political conviction

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023 04:00 | By

Today the controversial Financial Bill, 2023, which remains the most hotly debated economic and political issue since President William Ruto ascended to power, will be tabled in parliament for the Second Reading.

Indeed, what is basically an annual formality to legitimise the government budget has turned out to be tenuous subject at the heart of the 2010 Constitution and national politics.

Constitution granted the people of Kenya their most powerful weapon to counter excesses of the three arms of government, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and has stoically survived covert and overt attempts to manipulate it.

People power is emboldened in the Preamble of the Constitution that established the citizens’ sacred sovereign and inalienable rights for themselves and future generations.

The values and aspirations of the people are reinforced in Article 21 obligating the “State to its fundamental duty to observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.”

 Further, Article 118 (1)(b) requires Parliament “to facilitate public participation and involvement in legislative and other business of the National Assembly and its committees, and to conduct its business in an open manner and hold its sittings in public.”

Ongoing debate and recent public participation exercise expressing overwhelming objections to the Bill manifest the people’s strength against unpopular government policies and actions.  They also caution the arms of government, particularly the Executive and Legislature against pervading sense of self-entitlement, exclusivity and intolerance that seems to have become the overbearing hallmark of the current administration.

Matters have not been helped by the rather skewed Executive appointments to public and State organs that favour certain ethnic communities. This subject has raised an outcry only muted by the raging debate on the high cost of living and the Bill before Parliament today.

Critically, the most contentious national issue reaches a crescendo as the President and his deputy continue to laboriously campaign for the enactment of the Bill despite overwhelming objections from ordinary citizens, civil society, the clergy, industry lobbyists and most significantly, the Opposition.

Indications are that the strong messages against several clauses of the Bill, including the three per cent levy on workers’ salaries to fund the hazy affordable housing scheme and the proposed 16 per cent VAT have jolted the authorities into a rethink.

When legislators debate the contentious Bill, they must be forewarned that their conscience as the people’s representatives is at stake. Will they heed the voice of the people on the issues that they so clearly elaborated during public presentations before the parliamentary Finance Committee?

Both the Executive and Legislature are in the horns of a dilemma against the rushing tide of public opinion fueled by extreme poverty, soaring unemployment and a prohibitive cost of living – a debilitating socio-economic cocktail that requires pragmatic, not authoritarian prescriptions.

A currently predominant point of view resonating across the political divide seized by the Opposition leadership and its MPs and robustly taken to the floor of the House with gusto, buoyed by the huge wave of popular sentiment.

It is no secret that the current Legislature has been subjected to malleable conditioning. The question is, will the majority side of MPs and Senators now effectively a wing of the Executive compromise the wishes of their voters at the altar of political sycophancy? The hour of reckoning is nigh.

—The writer comments on political and economic affairs. [email protected]

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