MPs walk a tightrope in fuel tax vote

Mercy Mwai, Anthony Mwangi and Bernard Gitau @PeopleDailyKe

Politics appear to have laced the do-or-die debate today on the fate of  President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Finance Bill proposals on taxation,   with some MPs yesterday vowing to shoot it down.

Intense lobbying among members of the National Assembly intensified as both ruling Jubilee and Opposition MPs reached out to each other seeking assurances on how they intend to vote in respect to the President’s memorandum on the Finance Bill.

Sources within Parliament  indicated that powerful officials in government were yesterday calling individual MPs to get assurances that they would support the memorandum. A section of Opposition MPs were also rallying their Jubilee colleagues to support them.

Sources intimated that both Uhuru and Nasa leader Raila Odinga had given firm instructions to the Leaders of Majority and Minority and Chief Whips to leave nothing to chance to ensure the endorsement of the memorandum.

Ahead of today’s voting, MPs were said to be walking on a tightrope, torn between the voices of  voters feeling the pinch of high prices after increase in fuel tax, and heeding calls from Uhuru and Raila to vote for the memorandum.

Leader of Majority Aden Duale and his Minority counterpart John Mbadi and Chief Whips Benjamin Washiali and Junet Mohamed went overdrive to ensure implementation of  the directive.

The President’s and Raila’s efforts to mobilise support for the bill received a boost from Wiper leader and Nasa co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka, who urged parliamentarians to give their unequivocal support to the proposals in today’s critical vote. 

“It is during times such as this that a nation requires unity of purpose and our unity is geared towards economic progress that will benefit every Kenyan,” said Kalonzo. 

“The President’s intention is not to oppress his people. He had the interest of Kenyans by reducing the VAT by half. The issue is serious and critical,” he added.

“The struggle is real. The burden is heavy but we must strike the balance between catering for the welfare of Kenyans and meeting the development needs through the budget.”

It emerged yesterday that some MPs, who were on Tuesday talking tough, had softened their stance and declared support  for the   memorandum.

After realising it will be a daunting task to marshal 233 members, representing two thirds of the House to overturn the memorandum, defiant MPs were exploring ways to support it instead.   

It was understood a number of MPs from Jubilee side were individually called and prevailed upon against vetoing the President’s memorandum.

A highly placed source who did not want to be mentioned confirmed that there were firm instructions from top State officials  to ensure the memorandum does not fail and embarrass the President who commands majority of the MPs in the House.

Uhuru and Raila had on Wednesday whipped Jubilee and Nasa MPs to support the tax proposal. “I can confirm to you that, yes, I have personally called some members and got their assurance that they will support the amendments. Some of these people were initially opposed to this but now they have changed tune,” said Raila.

Some MPs, who did not want their names disclosed, cited blackmail from their respective parties, saying they were aware of plans to have the list of how they voted presented to both Uhuru and Raila.

Some of those targeted are vocal MPs who, in recent days had declared they would vote against the memorandum.

On the other hand, it was understood that the threats and intimidation meted on some MPs had taken a toll on them, prompting some to declare they will not show up for today’s voting. Some MPs said their decisions were based on potential adverse effects on their careers while another lot opposed to the memorandum had adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

By yesterday more than 10 MPs confirmed they would not take part in the voting as they had other engagements.

Duale yesterday said they were optimistic Uhuru’s amendments would go through, adding that in today’s sitting, they expect the House Committee on Finance to table its report on the President’s memorandum.

The Budget committee will also table its report on Supplementary Estimates that proposed budget cuts amounting to Sh55 billion.

“I hope our members will listen to their respective party leaders and the leadership of the House tomorrow and support the President. Tomorrow we believe that we will pass the memorandum and in as much as we are with Kenyans, we must balance between them and development,” said Duale.

Speaker Justin Muturi said parties had a right to hold parliamentary group meetings to come up with one common stand on issues.

“Having PGs is not wrong. It is very OK. In fact, going forward once we complete the new building we will allow our political parties to conduct their affairs here,” he said.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo said he would vote against the memorandum while another MP said it is not a guarantee that Uhuru will have direct support hence the lobbying.   

The legislator  who did not wish to be identified, however, said despite the ongoings,   most MPs will skip the sitting to avoid expressing their position on the matter that would either pit them against their party leaders or the electorate.”

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