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Legislators brace for epic Housing Bill showdown

Tuesday, February 13th, 2024 09:00 | By
Construction of an affordable housing project in Ngara, Nairobi.
Construction of an affordable housing project in Ngara, Nairobi. PHOTO/Print

Members of Parliament (MPs) from both sides of the political divide are gearing up for a bruising battle over the housing levy deduction once the National Assembly resumes normal sittings today.

The lawmakers from President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza and those from Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja are expected to clash when debate on the Affordable Housing Bill currently undergoing public scrutiny commences.

The government came up with the bill to create a comprehensive framework for the affordable Housing Programme following a High Court order that declared the housing levy unconstitutional but allowed the government to continue deducting taxpayers.

MPs who did not want to be named but are aware of the ongoing debate disclosed that both camps have been holding meetings to strategies on how to ensure that the bill is passed especially after the court’s ruling declaring the levy as unconstitutional.

A three-judge bench consisting of Justices David Majanja, Christine Meoli, and Lawrence Mugambi on November 28, ruled that the Housing Levy and some other sections of the Finance Act, 2023, were unconstitutional, null, and void.

Already Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah threatened the judiciary with budget cuts over its decision to declare the levy as unconstitutional.

Rogue individuals

Ichung’wah criticized the judiciary for allegedly being exploited by “rogue” individuals to disrupt the government’s efforts to generate job opportunities for young people through the Affordable Housing Project.

Said Ichung’wah: “You, the judiciary, are requesting additional funds, and that can only be approved by Parliament through taxation. However, you have suspended the tax collection process. If it comes before Parliament, we may consider cutting some funding.”

But yesterday Leader of Minority Opiyo Wandayi insisted their position on the housing levy remains unchanged and will reject it.

He said: “Our position on the housing levy is unchanged; we shall continue to reject it in all its forms. “ His sentiments come just days after his side of the coalition wrote to the speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetangula demanding that deductions on MPs and the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) staff salaries for January 2024 be refunded.

Effect deductions

In the letter to Wetangula, Wandayi explained that his decision is based on the fact that PSC proceeded to affect the 1.5 percent housing levy deductions on MPs and PSC staff despite the Court of Appeal ruling decision rendered on January 26 that declined to extend the stay orders issued by the high court that had allowed the deductions to continue on grounds that this would in effect allow unconstitutionality to continue.

Reads the letter: “I am, therefore, writing to demand a commitment from the PSC that it will refund, without any delay. The January 2024 housing levy deductions for MPs and PSC staff. As it stands, such deductions are an illegality and fly in the face of the clear Court ruling. It clearly amounts to contempt of court.”

And during this session, the lawmakers are also expected to consider the Budget Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the Financial Year 2024/2025 and discuss the Supplementary Budget expected to be submitted to the House by next Monday.

The House will also deliberate on Health regulations currently undergoing countrywide public participation. The MPs will also consider the adoption of the Report by the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO), that has proposed a raft of recommendations of the issues bedeviling the country.

The report was unveiled last year following lengthy deliberations of a bipartisan team led by National Assembly majority leader Kimani Ichungwah, on behalf of the Kenya Kwanza faction, and Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, on behalf of the Azimio coalition.

The report proposed the creation of the office of Leader of the Opposition, which will be occupied by the leader of the party that garnered the second highest number of votes in the presidential election with two deputies and the entrenchment of the Prime Cabinet Secretary’s office into the Constitution.

While tabling the report last session, Ichung’wah encouraged members to thoroughly review the report during the recess and come prepared to engage in meaningful debate.

Said Ichung’wah during an interdenominational church service at Kipkelion West: “Once the House resumes tomorrow (Tuesday), we will be prioritizing the debate on NADCO report which is a product of negotiation between us (KK) and Azimio, of the key recommendation of the report is reconstitution of IEBC.”

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