National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi on Tuesday rallied the House to amend the law and scrap a tax blamed for rising fuel prices.
It was a sharp contrast to three years ago, when MPs jeered him for bulldozing through a vote that imposed the levy on petroleum products.
In a stormy session on September 20, 2018, the government side pushed through the President’s memorandum that imposed eight percent VAT on petroleum products, which MPs now want to scrap in response to a public uproar.
The proceedings in the House in 2018 exposed the doublespeak of MPs. Aden Duale (Garissa Township), for example, who is now on the frontline against fuel price increases, supported the President’s move to impose the eight percent VAT.
Mr Duale, the majority leader at the time, was even accused of engineering a walkout by a group of lawmakers to deny the House the 233 votes it needed to overturn the President’s memorandum.
In the chaotic session, presided over by Soipan Tuya (Narok woman rep), in which MPs who wanted the tax zero-rated protested Mr Duale’s move to scuttle the opposition, Mr Muturi had to return to the chamber to restore order.
A headcount indicated that there were only 215 members in the House, and the President’s memorandum prevailed. The House broke into chants of “Muturi must go! Muturi must go!’ and “Bado mapambano!”
Undeterred, Speaker Muturi declared that that was what the Standing Order provided and the attempt to amend the Finance Act to scrap the VAT was defeated.
The 2018 session was sharply different from proceedings on Tuesday, when MPs sounded unanimous that the fuel tax that divided them three years ago had to go so as to cushion the public against the harsh economic times.
Mr Muturi, who had challenged MPs to initiate the changes to the Act in order to bring the prices down, even shortened the time the Finance Committee would take to draft an amendment, from the provided 60 days to 14, citing the urgency of the matter.
MPs had even wanted the time frame shortened to seven days, saying Kenyans were suffering and a solution was needed urgently.
Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati, who is now pushing for a review of the prices through the adjournment motion that he moved on Tuesday, spoke off the record and his remarks were not captured in the Hansard.
In 2018, just six months after President Kenyatta made a political truce with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga through their handshake, the government was boasting about ensuring that the memorandum was passed.
“The Kenyan economy can only be compared to that of our peers like South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. In South Africa they charge 14 per cent VAT and in Ghana they charge 15 per cent. Nigeria charges 5 per cent. Do not compare us with economies whose Gross Domestic Product when combined does not reach ours,” Mr Duale said then.
On Tuesday, Mr Duale was the one castigating the President for abusing his powers to veto the decision of the House.
Records, however, show that Minority Leader John Mbadi has maintained his stand on the matter. He supported the VAT in 2018 and even on Tuesday said the recent rise in fuel prices could not be attributed entirely to VAT
“The committee has to find out and explain the recent rise in prices, because VAT has been there since 2018,” Mr Mbadi said
“I know it is politically correct to oppose the taxes but taxes are everywhere, including where fuel is cheap. No country can develop without its citizens paying taxes. It is Epra (Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority), therefore, that owes us an explanation on the frequent increase in fuel prices.”