How Azimio MPs conspire to stop the Finance Bill, but can they do it?

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi talks with ODM leader Raila Odinga after a previous event at the Orange House offices in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

The Azimio La Umoja coalition is hatching a plan to defeat the controversial Finance Bill 2024, as opposition grows against some of the tax proposals contained in the bill.

But it is an uphill task that will require hard work, persuasion and luck on the part of the opposition to stop the Kenya Kwanzaa bill from passing.

Already, Raila Odinga’s ODM has instructed all its elected members to vote against the bill. Party insiders say the party’s stance is to reject the bill altogether until the major concerns contained in the bill are addressed.

Last year, a similar attempt to defeat the Finance Bill failed despite a vigorous obstruction effort by MPs led by Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi.

The Standard has established that the opposition is working on plans to ensure they can effectively represent the wishes of the majority of Kenyans who oppose the bill.

At the helm of these efforts is Wande, who has vowed to unite opposition MPs to reject the bill, while continuing to educate the public on why the bill is bad for the country.

The Standard has also learned that Coalition legal experts are researching legal loopholes in some of the new tax proposals, in preparation for potential litigation if their bid to block them in the House fails.

Earlier in the week, a senior ODM official told The Standard that he hoped some disgruntled Kenya Kwanzaa MPs would join them in rejecting the proposed taxes.

“The tax proposals are punitive and we know that all right-thinking politicians will not hesitate to reject them,” he said.

Wandehi said they were waiting to see if the Finance Committee would remove some of the controversial taxes that were included in the bill.

He appealed to Kenya Kwanza Party MPs, who have been vocal against the new tax measures to prove they are serious by rejecting the bill.

“When the time comes to vote, we want to see you openly in parliament. We want you, including those who are supporting Vice President Rigathi Gachagua, to vote with us,” he said.

Wandehi argued that it was futile to make noise about proposed taxes at funerals and not reject them in the National Assembly.

The Minority Leader said the only way for Kenyans to prove they do not support the taxation measures is to reject the Finance Bill 2024.

“If they come back with a report that they have listened to the cries of Kenyans and our leader Raila Odinga’s irrevocable minimum cap on punitive taxes in the Finance Bill, then we will talk. But if they come back with tax recommendations, we will say an emphatic no,” Wande said.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amolo said they were ready to take on the ruling coalition and challenge the bill.

He said the failure to stop last year’s Finance Bill would not affect his resolve to stop the current Finance Bill.

“Last year, the government came up with a bad finance bill and we rejected it but they forced it through. We managed to challenge it in court and we were partially successful by getting a part of it struck down,” Amolo said.

He claimed that the new proposals were worse than last year’s and said he was ready to challenge it in every possible way.

He said, “I have received instructions from my Rareeda people to reject the Finance Bill 2024. So even if they pass it once again, I will reject it.”

Unlike last year, when the opposition raised its voice against a similar bill through street protests, insiders say the new strategy focuses on intense lobbying and critical thinking to strengthen the case.

Last week, ODM leader Raila Odinga called for an overhaul of the tax proposals, saying Kenyans should not endure another round of hardship in the new financial year.

Raila urged MPs to protect Kenyans from punitive taxes and warned that various proposals in the bill risked collapsing an already struggling economy.

On Monday, Nyando MP Jared Okello said the government was not concerned about the suffering of Kenyans. He, however, admitted that preventing the bill from being passed would be a tough task.

President Ruto’s ruling coalition has a comfortable majority in Parliament and is keen to use it to pass its legislative proposals.

“Parliament has both minority and majority members. The minority will always be on the side of those Kenyans who believe the Finance Bill 2024 is punitive,” Okello said.

Constitutional lawyer Clifford Obiero argues that parliament has lost its credibility and believes only a few MPs will stand up for the Kenyan people.

He predicted that “some will compromise to publicly show their allegiance to the ruling party. Others have never stood for anything and will be conspicuously absent during debates and voting, while some will pretend to oppose the ruling party simply because of its numbers in the House.”

Meanwhile, the business community in Nyandarua County has warned its MPs not to support the Finance Bill.

Speaker John Githinji described the bill as oppressive.

Speaking in Ol Kalou Town, traders said the passage of the bill proposing tax hikes would adversely affect the economic well-being of many people.

“Nyandarua MPs should be warned that if they support the passage of the bill, they will be going against the will of the majority of the people,” he said.

Githinji said the bill proposed to impose a number of taxes, including on the “transfer of land from husband to wife” and even on sanitary towels, which are vital to keeping girls in school.

“This is a matter of great concern. Why should this be taxed? The leaders of this region should be the first ones to oppose this,” he said.

Benson Lukalo, a business leader, warned that passage of the bill with the current tax proposals would hurt ordinary people and cause many businesses to close down as taxes would eat into profits.

“Our MPs should listen to what is being said on the ground and reject the bill. We expect them to give voice to Wanjiku, who has refused to pass the bill,” Lukalo said.

However, the Kenya Kwanzaa team is hopeful that the tax proposals will be passed in the House and has criticised MPs who are opposing it.

Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi said Ruto was building an economy that was ruined by the government of his predecessor, President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“I want to tell you that our coffers are empty. We are now 75 per cent into rebuilding the economy. Let us tell our people the truth,” he said.

Nominated MP Joseph Wainaina said the Finance Bill would help the country run smoothly.

“The President has earned the name Zakayo because of his tax policies but he will soon be called Joseph because the country will become a prosperous nation through his economic reform strategies,” Wainaina said.

But Ugenya MP David Ochieng, a member of the Kenya Kwanza Party and the Movement for Development and Growth (MDG), has vowed to reject the bill.

He said although he is a member of the President’s coalition, he will focus on what he thinks is good for the people of his constituency.

Additional reporting by James Munyek

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