President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga yesterday clashed openly during the burial of freedom fighter Mukami Kimathi at her Njabini home in Kinangop, Nyandarua County.
The two traded barbs over the high cost of living, opposition-led demonstration, Kenya’s debt burden and proposed taxes in the Finance Bill 2023 in a no-holds barred slug out, with the Head of State asking to be given time to right the Jubilee administration’s wrongs.
Mr Odinga has asked the National Assembly to reject “punitive” taxation measures contained in the Finance Bill, 2023, saying they will escalate the cost of living and hurt the economy.
“I agree with Raila that the cost of living is high, the truth is you (Uhuru and Raila) made things worse. Give me time to fix it. I have reduced 20 taxes, and removed Sh500 billion to lift the load off Kenyans. Raila, you can beat me on history, but on the economy, I understand this one. You cannot beat me,” President Ruto said.
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President Ruto said the previous administration had made a big mess of the economy and that his attempt to raise revenue will not be thwarted.
“I am a close student of Mwai Kibaki. He moved revenues from Sh200 billion to Sh1 trillion. Uhuru Kenyatta came and pushed it, but added many debts, and revenue got to Sh2 trillion. Now I am here. I want to push it to Sh2.8 trillion in this financial year. Give me the space to work, and bring this revenue up. I know what to do,” said President Ruto.
A defiant President accused the former regime of having contributed to the high cost of living, adding that Mr Odinga was part of the government.
“When I was ushered into office, the cost of living was still high. The price of a packet of unga was Sh230 and now it is about Sh170. Bwana Odinga anasema ananijua ni ukweli ananijua. Lakini hata mimi namjua zaidi na ndiyo sababu niliwashida wakiwa na Uhuru Kenyatta. (Mr Odinga says he knows me which is true, but I also know him and that is why I defeated him despite being backed by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta),” he said.
He took a swipe at the former regime on unga subsidy, saying it was wrong to work with the millers in cushioning the common citizens from the rising cost of living. He lectured Mr Odinga saying: “You don’t subsidise consumption but subsidise production… that is how the country went wrong.”
He said he had no issue with positive criticism, adding that he had instructed his Cabinet Secretaries to answer questions in Parliament. He implored the opposition leader to abandon demonstrations and give the bipartisan team a chance to complete its work.
Mr Odinga had also thrown his weight behind the team as the two appeared to build consensus on the impeding talks. On his part, Mr Odinga insisted that President Ruto wanted to overburden Kenyans through taxation, saying they were already paying too much taxes.
“I will tell you the truth because I do not fear. Cost of living has gone up. Do not add more taxes. Punda amechoka, usiongeze mzigo (The donkey is already overburdened. Do not add the load). That is the truth. Your people are not telling you this. But I will,” Mr Odinga said. He revisited the August 2022 election stalemate which has since led to bipartisan talks in Parliament.
“I know Ruto very well. I have worked with him for a long time. So when he makes all these noises, I know he will calm down. We have sent our team, Ruto has sent his. Let them talk,” Mr Odinga said.
The opposition leader has singled out increased Value Added Tax (VAT) on maize flour and pharmaceutical products, enhanced duty on imported cement and imposition of turnover tax on small businesses.
He further cited the Income Tax Adjustment pegged at 35 per cent on those earning Sh500, 000 a month as well as the three per cent deduction on salaries to support the Housing Fund, 15 per cent tax on digital content creators, taxation of per diems at the rate of 30 per cent and tax on beauty products.
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua also called on the opposition leader to accept that he and the President were duly elected into office and focus on the 2027 election.
“Mr Odinga should acknowledge that we were validly elected, and we are legally in office. The opposition should not live in denial. The truth is that hustler number one is the President of Kenya and I am his deputy,” he said.
First to throw a salvo on Mr Odinga was Naivasha MP Jayne Kihara who asked him to let the President undertake his constitutional duties. Echoing her sentiments was Kinangop MP Kwenya Thuku and Nyandarua Senator John Methu who asked Mr Odinga to give Dr Ruto a chance to deliver on his election pledges.
Water Cabinet Secretary Alice Wahome also waded into the debate, making a similar appeal to the opposition leader. The President also acceded to calls by former freedom fighters to help locate the remains of Mau Mau fighter Dedan Kimathi Wachiuri.
Mr Ruto said the government will join a team of war veterans who were willing to trace his remains believed to have been buried within Kamiti Prison.
Mr Gachagua claimed that collaborators and home guards were the ones rewarded at the expense of those who took part in the liberation struggle.