MPs’ stand on prices of basic foods is laudable

The Finance and National Planning Committee of the National Assembly has rejected a proposal by the National Treasury to increase the price of maize and wheat flour. In its report on the Finance Bill 2022, the House team rejected a proposal to remove tax relief on suppliers of the two commodities, citing the harsh economic realities that households across the country face.

The Finance Bill 2022 sought to raise Sh51.6 billion revenues, which is part of Sh2.14 trillion for financing the country’s ambitious Sh3.33 trillion annual budget. True, this money is needed for the smooth running of government, but the Treasury should look elsewhere for funds. Raising the cost of basic foodstuffs at this time would not only make life unbearable for many; the political and economic timing is awfully wrong.

The move also comes at a time more than three million Kenyans are staring at starvation following extended drought and insecurity, especially in the northern parts of the country.

Effects of climate change and insecurity aside, food is an emotive issue, especially in an election year. And while the lawmakers’ rejection of the tax proposals may be seen as a case of playing to the gallery to curry favour with voters two months to a general election, it would be wrong to make life harder for Kenyans, who are smarting from the economic crisis occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic and the adverse effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sent prices of wheat and oil products through the roof.

Besides upholding the Finance committee’s recommendations on wheat and maize flour, the National Assembly should find ways of easing the high cost of living. It’s barely a month since the cost of fuel, which has a knock-on effect on all aspects of life, was raised to an all-time high. Kenyans are also struggling to keep children in school in a packed calendar where school fees and other levies are being demanded in rapid succession amid a biting economic downturn.

Given these harsh realities, the last thing the country needs is an avoidable increase in the prices of basic foods.

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