A minor is not a citizen and other bizarre Kenyan rules

Playing child

A minor plays in a child's therapy room in Mombsa County on November 18, 2023.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • When rules are made in a blind rush, they hurt the citizens and their economy.
  • Minors, contrary to Article 12 of the constitution, are not entitled to citizen services.

Societies function because of rules. Without rules, we would all be walking around with bazookas and other weaponry to protect ourselves. In the ensuing melee, and to quote Hobbes, life would be short and brutish.

But the rule of law frequently breaks down for several reasons. The most common is when the individuals or parties holding power refuse to respect the rules.

When some animals are more equal than others, it does not take long for the less equal animals to also disregard the rules.

Social media has been awash with narratives about and around a young man who beat up a police officer and the brutal reaction of the police fraternity, leading to his arraignment in court.

Does anyone remember the trigger to those tragic events? A demand for a bribe, by the police officer.

The matter is now in court and we leave it to them for determination. But it does raise the question what rules can we, as social and economic beings, legitimately expect, and agree to live by? 

In our version of democracy, the fundamental principles and rules are contained in the constitution. All other laws, regulations and rules must adhere to those principles, and any deviation is null and void.

We have two levels of legislatures, whose daily job is to make laws, rules and regulations. One such law is the contentious finance bill, which every year increases, or in extremely rare instances, reduces various taxes.

Proof of citizenship

Further, the executives and the civil services are routinely making rules and regulations. My pals at National Treasury, who the media likes to call mandarins, are some of the best at writing circulars, directing how things are to be done.

When, however, rules and regulations are made in a blind rush, without public participation or for the purpose of individual wealth accumulation, they hurt the citizens and their economy.

Such rules create artificial barriers that increase costs of living and of doing business. Here are three examples of ridiculous rules in our beloved Republic.

First up, a minor is not a citizen! This obnoxious, discriminatory and clearly unconstitutional position is the conclusion of the folks at citizen services.

I am sure many minors and their parents have been horrified on finding this out. This week, it was my turn to experience this shocking rule.

On college break and having just turned 18, my son went to enroll at a driving school, but was turned away.

Not that the driving school staff are nasty. Rather, it was on account of not having an ecitizen account, which he can’t have yet, since his national identification card is not ready. He has a birth certificate and a passport.

But these are, apparently, not sufficient proof of age and citizenship. And minors, contrary to Article 12 of the constitution, are not entitled to citizen services!

My week-long spirited protests to officialdom fell on deaf ears. This cannot possibly be right, I pleaded. Rules are rules, I was told.

ecitizen platform

No doubt you will recall that a short while ago, through administrative fiat, the KK regime decreed that all government services must be offered through the ecitizen platform.

At that time, I theorized that this rule was likely driven by the collection of a convenience fee rather than economic, social, service delivery or legal logic.

The convenience fee is paid to the private operator of the platform. In the rush to increase it, the regime is trampling on citizens’ rights.

You cannot register on ecitizen without a national identification card. Young people do not have national identification cards, and therefore, they cannot register on ecitizen.

As a result, they cannot, on their own, pay KWS to enter parks. They cannot apply for a leaner’s permit.

Worst of all, they cannot access Higher Education Loans Board services! Parents have been calling citizen services seeking to use their ecitizen accounts to assist their young people access HELB.

Why would you demand that HELB be run on ecitizen, knowing as you surely must, that 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who are applying for higher education loans and grants do not have national IDs?

A couple of years back, I wrote on this very column about an equally bizarre rule. This time in the ministry of Education.

More tax revenue

To register a new secondary school, you needed to produce a title deed for the land on which you we building the school, have already built two classrooms and an ablution block, and have at least 50 students. 

To a mandarin sipping rich, sugary government tea at the Ministry HQ in Jogoo House, it must have seemed like a great idea. Except that in Luoniek, North Laikipia, where we were registering the secondary school, land, both private and public, do not yet have title deeds.

This is the case in many parts of the Republic – a fault of the government, not the citizen. It seems really mean spirited therefore, to make a rule requiring citizens who are trying to educate their children, to produce that which you, as government, has denied them!

Which brings me to how governments pay for the services they provide the citizen. Taxes. The KRA now wants to collect VAT on own source revenue (OSR) raised by counties.

Understandably, the Council of Governors is up in arms, issuing a hard-hitting statement in protest, earlier in the week. 

This new rule means collecting VAT on the direct fees that you pay for county government services.

Do not be surprised then, if you are now asked to pay VAT on the fees you pay in hospitals, for single business permits, for parking on a city street or for your livestock movement permit when you go to Rumuruti to buy sheep and goats.

The KK regime is certainly desperate for more tax revenue. But isn’t bizarre to propose tax on tax?

@NdirituMuriithi is an economist