Tax, stalled talks top on agenda as House reopens
The controversial Budget making process and the political standoff between President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance and Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja coalition are expected to dominate debate in the National Assembly when sittings resume today.
Lawmakers are expected to consider the Budget Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the Financial Year 2023-2024 which have put President Ruto’s expenditure plans at Sh3.599 trillion.
The Budget proposal has sparked debate over various clauses, including the three per cent housing levy that workers in formal employment will be required to pay if the Bill is passed after Treasury CS Njuguna Ndung’u presents it in Parliament on June 15.
Leader of Majority Kimani Ichung’wah said the House expects the Budget and Appropriations Committee to table the Appropriation Report, which will pave the way for the tabling of the Bill in ten days. The Finance and Planning Committee is also expected to table its report on the controversial Finance Bill, which sets out the government’s tax and spending plan.
“We expect to debate pertinent issues, including consideration of the budgetary expenditure and how revenue will be raised,” Ichung’wa told People Daily ahead of this year’s second session.
“This long recess had been set to allow the departmental committees to engage the Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) under them. It had also been set to give the Finance Committee time to engage with stakeholders and National Treasury on revenue-raising measures.”
Leader of Minority Opiyo Wandayi said the Minority side was ready to deal with any issues once sittings resume after a month-long recess.
“We are coming back energised and prepared to deal with issues of importance. As an opposition coalition, we are more than ready to deal with any matter,” he said.
The Minority side has said it will vote to reject the Finance Bill in its totality.
The Bill, which outlines how the government intends to raise taxes, will be tabled on June 13, two days before the presentation of the Budget. The Bill seeks to amend various laws relating to taxation with the objective of increasing government revenues.
It has sparked robust debate, with Senator Okiya Omtatah going to court, over plans to raise taxes as the government struggles to contain external borrowing, currently standing at over Sh9 trillion. Debt repayment has been consuming more than half of tax revenues annually, straining the government’s capacity to meet recurrent and development spending, including paying salaries and completing road projects.
Among other provisions, the Finance Bill introduces the National Housing Development Fund contribution that requires both employers and employees to contribute three per cent of the employee’s monthly basic salary to the fund.
And employers will be required to match an employee’s contribution shilling for a shilling. The contribution has been capped at Sh2,500.
Molo MP Kimani Kuria, the chairman of the Finance and Planning Committee, whose job is to prepare the Finance Bill, said that he expects there will be amendments before the House approves the final Bill and urged Kenyans to be patient as his team prepares a report to be tabled in Parliament ahead of the reading of the Budget speech.
The committee received over 1,000 submissions, the majority rejecting some of the proposals in the Bill.
“The public participation was not in vain. We will put into consideration some of the issues which Kenyans came up with,” Kuria told People Daily.
Already, Azimio leader Raila Odinga has threatened to mobilise Kenyans to reject the entire Budget proposals should the government fail to withdraw the controversial clauses.
Yesterday, he said Azimio will give a clear way forward on Thursday.
On the political standoff over the on and off bipartisan talks, lawmakers will also be briefed on the progress made, or lack thereof, on how to reconstitute the electoral commission and resolve some of the key issues that Azimio wants addressing, including opening presidential election servers for scrutiny and tangible steps to reduce the cost of living.
The talks, which were called to end the weekly protests that Azimio used to organise, collapsed following hardline positions taken by members from the two sides. Azimio had given until yesterday for Kenya Kwanza to make commitments that would lead to the resumption of the negotiations.
While the Kenya Kwanza team accuses their colleagues in Azimio of creating unnecessary roadblocks that have derailed the negotiations, Azimio insists that the talks would not continue unless the government heeds to all their demands, including desisting from wooing Jubilee MPs from Azimio, a move the Opposition has said undermines multiparty democracy.
Last week, at a Parliamentary Group meeting, Azimio maintained that the talks would remain suspended until Kenya Kwanza yields to their demands.
“Until all these are agreed on, the joint bipartisan talks remain suspended,” read the statement by the Azimio that had given the government said six hours to comply.
Besides the Budget and politics, Ichung’wah is expected to notify the National Assembly of the schedule of the Cabinet Secretaries expected to appear before the plenary and the questions they will be expected to respond to.
The House will also consider committee reports on the suitability of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director-General nominee Noordin Haji and the Central Bank Governor nominee Kamau Thugge for the respective positions.
The reports will be tabled by the chairperson of the Committee on Defense, Intelligence and Foreign Relations Nelson Koech (Belgut) and his Finance and National Planning committee counterpart Kimani Kuria (Molo).
In addition, the National Assembly will consider a report by the Departmental Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs on the suitability of former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto and Caroline Nzilani who the President nominated to the 11-member Judicial Service Commission.
The House will also debate the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes (Amendment) Bill (2023), which seeks to repeal certain provisions of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act (2003). The Act governs the investigation, prosecution and punishment of corruption and other economic crimes.
They will also consider the Statute Law Miscellaneous Amendment Bill, the National Rating Bill, the County Governments Revenue Raising Bill, the Conflict of Interest Bill 2023 and other private members’ and committee sponsored bills.