Kenyan MPs pass William Ruto's Finance Bill amid national street protests

The National Assembly on Tuesday adopted Finance Bill 2024 despite a boycott by the official Opposition and spirited opposition from millions of ordinary Kenyans who took to the streets and online to express their reservations.

Lawmakers allied to President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance , the majority side, voted 195 against 106 to carry the day in an exercise that saw zero abstentions.

Three votes were spoiled, according to the speaker. The bill is now headed to Dr Ruto's desk for assent. 

If he agrees with the House, he will sign the bill into law,  effectively sealing the fate of millions of Kenyans who have opposed several tax measures in the proposed law.

If he disagrees with MPs, the Head of State will return the bill to the House with a memorandum like his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta did in 2018 after MPs amended Finance Bill 2018 to exclude the imposition of 16 per cent VAT on fuel products.

Earlier, clauses in the bill, which has sparked national uproar, demos and riots over “punitive taxes and levies”,  were adopted at the Committee Stage in a record less than two hours of deliberations.

This becomes Kenya’s hurriedly adopted finance bill, considering that similar proposed laws took days to be enacted.

President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza alliance enjoys majority in the National Assembly and it was easy for him to convince his lawmakers to push the bill down the throats of protesting Kenyans.

The clauses in the bill were passed without the input of the official opposition, after the Raila Odinga-led Azimio coalition dropped all their proposed changes, saying the amendments would have amounted to nought. 

Consequently, the debate was reduced to a government-side affair as Azimio MPs, joined by some Kenya Kwanza colleagues and Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba, steered clear of the exercise.

Some of the key changes that were adopted by the House before the final vote include the scrapping of the annual 2.5 percent motor vehicle recirculation tax, value-added tax on diaspora remittances and raw materials for local manufacture of diapers and sanitary pads.

The lawmakers also voted to retain bread among commodities that are zero-rated from the proposed 16 percent value-added tax.

Reported by Roselyne Obala, David Mwere and Harry Misiko.