Thoughts of a 90's child

Let’s talk about the Finance Bill

Our generation is very fortunate to have been born in a day and age where we don’t have to fight for fundamental rights that our forefathers did. Though I am alive to the fact that these rights may not be fully realized and have many imperfections we cannot say we are where we were half a century ago.

It’s easy to get tired of the news because a great deal of the time we are reminded of the challenges we face as a country. The good days don’t really last as long. A meme lifespan to be precise and we’re on to the next story. (Notice how we’re not longer talking about demolishing buildings, lifestyle audits or corruption charges as much now?)

It’s amusing how we don’t go beyond the news. It simply ends at the news headline and if we’re lucky the newspaper articles. We don’t have enough people reading up on the issues at hand because we don’t have time. Especially amongst the youth. We just lament at how horrid the situation is.

To understand how bad it is I saw a post on twitter stating the person ‘won’t be affected by the rise in fuel prices because they don’t drive a car.’ On a normal day you’d just scroll past that tweet but I hope we’re all smart enough to see the problem in that statement.

The Finance bill 2018 is proposed legislation that provides amendments to the tax regime to finance the government’s 3 trillion Kenyan Shillings budget. In simple terms we pay more taxes so that we borrow less and repay the debt. I am alive to the fact that there is a two year timeline for proposed regulations.

It’s a bitter sweet situation because on one hand we have a 5 trillion Kenyan Shillings debt which we have to pay. A debt that will likely affect our grandchildren from the look of things with pressure from international financial institutions to pay up. However, to fix this grave issue the bill says we should tax commodities such as petroleum products with almost half of the proceeds going to the government. This I believe will make it increasingly difficult if not impossible to generate wealth as a nation and whatever we do generate goes into paying our national debt. I’d need an economist opinion to explain exactly how we will manage to stay afloat.

It’s been an erratic week trying to figure out why we should or shouldn’t pay the 16% vat but we need to have things put in context for a minute. First, we live in a society with a population of only 11% being termed as millionaires. About 42% live below the poverty line. We have about 38.5% of the population being termed as literate. Now that just tells you many people will even get to read the bill and understand it’s implications assuming all the learned people take the time to. These simple numbers also tell you that if the fuel price goes up the population living below the poverty line and those clutching on it hoping not to go under may not be able to put food on the table to start with.

We have issues as a country, big ones, we always do, we need feasible solutions. For law makers to say they make the law upon advice and hand it over to the president is sad because it means nothing is put to context and what really is anything without context. We aren’t forgetting we have a serious debt to pay but how do we tax a commodity that may as well drive the economy to a stand still if not resulting in an economic depression? For capitalist it’s easy to say pay the debt then build the economy but these same capitalist organizations are profit driven and may not really know what the ordinary Kenyan goes through just to make it to work or buy that bag of unga. This ordinary Kenyan who is a contributor to the economy and I’d dare say a greater contributor than the 11% of the millionaires.

We elect leaders because we can’t all fit in parliament and have the luxury to say what is happening or should happen. However it is disheartening that somehow when they get to parliament it seems they completely forget the situation of the people who make them leaders until another vote is needed. It may not be all of them but we all know what a few rotten tomatoes make the sack look like. It appears to be about making laws that are abundant in this nation but with non existing implementation frameworks for a good number of them and glaring inefficiencies.

It is very easy to forget what going without meal is like when you get money to buy more than you can afford. Some of us are privileged enough to have no idea what it means.

It’s amazing how fast we forget. We forget that our GDP growth is pegged on bettering our economic performance. One way being by creating a suitable environment for investors in the country resulting in job creation and consequently wealth creation to keep our economy from plummeting. The repeat elections taught us that had lesson with how much was lost in the stock market in just a few days.

If our priority is to focus on paying our debt and consequently make the environment in Kenya unsuitable for investors then ideally it looks like we won’t be able to make money because we’re too busy paying taxes.

When we were fighting corruption (or seemed to fight corruption) a few days ago it felt like we were dealing with a real issues, at least from where I sit. Taking into consideration the general conversation that was going on around me. It may have been a facade because we’ve grown up questioning the ingenuity of the actions of our leaders but for once the concept is justice looked achievable in today and not just a distant future.

Now all our attention is on this bill with the best of intentions for the Kenyan people as has been argued. I however feel it may end up being a grave mistake if signed into law. Putting it into perspective:

How will all the discussions President Kenyatta is having with other countries to improve trade relations and promote a healthy balance of trade work when factories that are dependent on fuel products need spend more to process the bare minimum that is resulting in an imbalance?

How will these goods we want to market to other countries get there when the ordinary farmer already has to deal with infrastructural challenges and corrupt middlemen to get his goods to the market if he/she can’t afford to fuel the Lorry or when he/she does makes no profit because taxes have already taken everything?

It is of minimal benefit from my millennial view to have our president having these discussions them come back and sign the bill. It is simply a chasing after the wind.

We thought we saw trouble with the companies that have moved headquarters to South Africa earlier on that took a toll on jobs and consequent brain drain. Now we’re practically shooting ourselves in the leg.

We’ve established sometimes we don’t like to look beyond the news headlines and see the bigger picture I believe we need to. Public participation in some issues affecting us like these with key stakeholders should see the light of day otherwise what’s the point of article 118(1)(b) of the constitution.

(Parliament shall… facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees.)

Politics has been an uncomfortable topic for me because it’s too messy but in a century if all we do is sit and work hard to make enough money to feel safe enough to leave what we think is a problematic country, then we’ll have done a great disservice to ourselves. Greater than the collaborators did by agreeing with the white man. I say this because I’ve met enough people who given the chance would flee to ‘better, more developed countries’.

After putting down all this it feels like this headline will just pass and another newspan will kick in. However, I hope we don’t forget as fast this time(which we still might). Even if it’s to justify the Kenyan bracelets we wear so proudly and flaunt saying we’re patriotic Kenyans.

It really is about time we act like it and ask hard questions to be convinced exactly why our law makers think or thought in 2013 it is a good thing to have this bill as opposed to exploring other alternatives. There has to be a reason the bill was suspended twice before right?

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