President William Ruto’s lobbying of MPs to back his controversial tax proposals is apparently paying off as multiple interviews with lawmakers and review of public statements suggest the contentious legislation is set for passage.
Saturday Nation contacted 152 MPs on their likely vote on the Finance Bill 2023, with those either backing it in its current form or with some amendments being the majority, compared to those opposing the Bill in its entirety.
A substantial number of the ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance lawmakers and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya rebels plan to back the Bill despite widespread protests by the public and interest groups against some proposals.
The Bill appears to be enjoying overwhelming backing by MPs from Rift Valley and Mt Kenya, which are largely Kenya Kwanza political bastions.
Of the 152 MPs who responded or whose positions are public, 61 plan to vote in support, while 45 – mostly from the opposition – will vote against the Bill.
Another 46 either said they had yet to make up their mind pending possible amendments or just declined to respond, citing public or party backlash, particularly in cases where their positions are contrary. In the 349-member National Assembly, Kenya Kwanza boasts of 179 MPs, while the Azimio coalition has 157 MPs.
Of the 157 in Azimio, 28 are Jubilee lawmakers, most of whom now support Dr Ruto, defying their party leader, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose grip on the party faces an onslaught.
The interviews also revealed that some of the Kenya Kwanza MPs who had initially expressed their reservations about the Bill now say they are ready to support should amendments be introduced.
The Finance and National Planning committee that conducted public hearings on the Bill is expected to submit a report in the House next week, factoring in submissions from interest groups and possibly proposing some amendments. Its chairperson, Molo MP Kimani Kuria, has hinted at amendments.
During a sitting of the Committee of the Whole House, MPs will vote on each clause and finally on the entire Bill. At this stage, those opposed to the entire Bill, particularly members of Mr Raila Odinga-led Azimio, hope to scuttle it. But it looks set for passage, as some of its initial critics within Kenya Kwanza are budging.
Only Githunguri MP Gathoni wa Muchomba has maintained her opposition to the Bill. Mathira MP Eric Mumbi, who had initially opposed it, has since declared support. On Thursday in Mathira, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua claimed that all Mt Kenya MPs were backing the Bill, except for one—in reference to Ms Muchomba.
Ms Muchomba maintains that she will not be “cowed by threats and intimidation into supporting the Bill”.
“It’ll go down in history that I rejected oppressive taxes,” she vowed recently.
ODM chairman and nominated MP John Mbadi – one of the leading opponents of the Bill – openly admitted that it is likely to sail through because the ruling coalition is determined to flex its numerical strength. He disclosed that most MPs who had initially declared their opposition were now backing the Bill following a threat by Dr Ruto.
“Some Members of Parliament who were expressing reservations about the Bill have just shifted and are now praising it after the threat by the President. Some MPs have difficulties on whether to vote for the Finance Bill or not because the President is threatening those who will not support it,” said Mr Mbadi.
“I know there is little to expect from the National Assembly in terms of rejecting this Bill, but those of us who are opposed to it will have to put our points across.”
Dr Ruto last weekend called for a public vote by MPs so that he can identify those opposed to the Bill. “I am waiting to see the MPs who will oppose the Housing Fund levy in the Finance Bill 2023, then Kenyans will know he is an enemy of the people, and against employing jobless youth through the Housing Fund.”
Further analyses indicate that most Jubilee MPs have declared their support for the Bill. They include Sabina Chege (nominated), Aden Keynan (Eldas) and Stanley Muthama (Lamu West). “This is the right time to make this bold decision with drastic tax reforms tailor-made for the final take-off of Kenya to join the league of developed countries,” Mr Keynan said.
“The tax measures contained in the Finance Bill 2023 are necessary steps in our long-term vision that will ultimately pay dividends in terms of expanded gross domestic product (GDP), per capita income and accelerated industrialisation. Allow the new government to implement its manifesto.”
Ms Chege, who is fighting the opposition faction that wants to oust her as deputy minority whip, said: “There comes a time when we must think of Kenya first in pursuit of better collective prospects.” This was an indication that she would back the Bill.
In Nyanza, some ODM rebel MPs appeared cagey about the Bill. Besides Ugenya MP David Ochieng’ of the Movement for Democracy (MDG), the other rebels declined to declare their position. This could be to protect themselves from a possible backlash from their supporters and party leaders while trying to please the President as part of their commitment to backing his government agenda.
Mr Ochieng’ has defended the Bill, saying: “Some of the proposals in the Finance Bill are important to ensure we raise revenue that matches what we want to do as a country to grow.”
Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris (ODM) has also declared her support for the Housing levy in the Bill. The levy is one of the most contested clauses.
“We need to eliminate slums and the things that come with them; there is increased crime, illegal connections of electricity, and fires every week. Let’s give the benefit of doubt and pray that the government deals decisively with corruption,” she said in a recent interview.
Minority Whip Junet Mohamed has announced there would be consequences for opposition lawmakers who back the Bill. “I don’t think there is any sane member who can go against the position of the opposition. I am not aware of any member from our side who is going to support the Bill. If there is any, then they know the consequences,” said Mr Mohamed.
Most MPs from Mt Kenya told Saturday Nation they will endorse the Bill, but some are reluctant to publicly state their position, given some proposals are unpopular with the electorate. Some said they were waiting for amendments to be introduced to decide, while others said although it was unpopular with residents they did not want to appear to oppose the President.
“I cannot comment. If I say I will vote Yes, my people will be on my case. If I say I will oppose, the President will think I am against him and I don’t want to go that path,” said one MP from Mt Kenya East.
“We are in a tight fix...Members of the public have been fed so much propaganda, hence making it risky to state support. On the other hand, as the government, we are in unanimity that we need the Bill as it is as our collective baby," said another MP.
Kirima Ngucine (Imenti Central) was categorical that if the proposed 16 per cent VAT on petroleum products is not amended to retain the current eight per cent, he’ll oppose it. “The clause on the VAT on fuel is not good for mwananchi; it will result in increased cost of fuel. If it is not amended, you can be sure I will vote No.”
Kipkelion West’s Hillary Koskei will support it because “it provides an internal remedy for economic woes facing the country by raising revenue, spurring the growth of cottage industries, raising agricultural production, creating jobs and discouraging imports of goods that have local alternatives.”
Reporting by Moses Nyamori, Gitonga Marete, Mwangi Muiruri, Martin Mwaura, George Munene, Alex Njeru, Pius Maundu, Eric Matara and Barnabas Bii