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House passes fuel levy law amid chaos

Was the parliamentary tradition where the majority have their way and the minority their way turned on its head yesterday?

On a messy House session characterised by chaos, name-calling and tension, Parliament passed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s memorandum on Finance Bill 2018 which introduced a raft of taxation measures.

The presidential memorandum was passed on a technicality after the opposing side failed to meet the requisite numbers following a day-long game of wits between the Executive and the MPs.

Uhuru’s memorandum included cutting the Value Added Tax on petroleum products from 16 per cent to eight per cent.  The bill now awaits his assent to become law.

Even after it was cut by half, the new tax on fuel and other taxes and austerity measures are expected to increase the cost of living.

Other taxes that are expected to hit the pockets of Kenyans hard include increase of excise duty on fees charged for mobile phone money transfer services from 10 to 12 per cent and excise duty on internet data services from 10 to 15 per cent.

Withdrawing cash from bank ATMs will also be more costly  as will transferring money from bank accounts into mobile phone wallets.

Time taken on social media sites and applications like Facebook, Whatsapp or Twitter will be more expensive with  the cost of Internet bundles increasing   as the Government moves to plug a Sh600 billion budget deficit.

Earlier, the government yielded to pressure from Members of the National Assembly and reinstated various allocations that had previously been slashed by the Treasury.

The MPs had been placated  to approve the supplementary estimates that had recommended that the original 2018/2019 financial year be reduced further to Sh37.6 billion from Sh55.1 billion.

The opposing side claimed to have carried the day and blocked a repeat head count charging   that the clerks had manipulated the figures to read 215 instead of 352.

Shouting members made it impossible for temporary Speaker Soipan Tuya to be heard, forcing Speaker Justin Muturi to come back to take control of proceedings.

And immediately the voting was over, Leader of Majority Aden Duale and his minority counterpart John Mbadi led their troops in a walk-out, denying the session the required numbers.

Muturi directed that the count be done afresh but his voice was drowned by members who were singing the popular “Bado mapamano” protest song and shouting “zero, zero, zero”, in reference to zero tax on petroleum products.

However, Muturi ordered that the vote be counted again after a 15 minute break.

But after the break, the opposing MPs walked out after realising they could not raise the required 233 votes.

MPs Kajwang’, Millie Odhiambo and Abdulswamad Nassir led the opposing side which also included MPs Catherine Waruguru (Laikipia Women’s Rep), James Lomenen (Turkana South), Joseph Tuwei (Mosop), Fatuma Jalseda  (Isiolo Women’s Rep) among others.

They said they were defending the interests of Wanjiku.

Defending the memorandum earlier, Duale said that while the government was putting into consideration the interest of all Kenyans in introducing the new taxes, there was need to support the Budget.

“Kenya is not the only country that has imposed VAT on petroleum products. South Africa levies 14 per cent , Ghana 15 per cent and Nigeria 5 per cent,” said Duale. 

Mbadi defended Uhuru’s reservations on the Finance Bill since he had reduced the VAT by half.

But Kajwang’ argued that the law demands that fuel be zero rated  because the President had not assented to the 16 per cent.

“The Executive is taking you for a ride, the simple message is that If Parliament passes the eight per cent VAT on fuel, it will open doors for the Treasury Cabinet secretary to increase tax to 25 per cent,” he said.

Budget and Appropriation Committee chairperson Kimani Ichung’wa accused the opposing side of playing to the public gallery as they were aware that if no vote were taken, the President’s memorandum would carry the day.

“The Standing Orders are clear on this matter. If no vote is taken, the reservations by the President carry the day,” said Ichung’wa.

When the sitting resumed, the Speaker ruled that the information contained in the Hansard would carry the day.

“My position now is that only a Court of law can overturn the Hansard,” Muturi ruled.

The Speaker  then personally took the chair’s seat and led the vote with Duale moving the motion.

On the side, a section of “Yes” MPs stood in guard  in case of any aggression on Duale. They included, MPs Moses Kuria, (Gatundu South) David Gikaria, (Nakuru East) Fatuma Gedi, (Wajir County MP) Francis Waititu, (Juja) and Geoffrey King’ang’i (Mbeere South).

Muturi, however, successfully led the MPs in passing the motion.

The Speaker said the screens in the House showed there were 352 MPs in the House, which is more than the 349 members.

The first result had seen MPs endorse the proposal to effect 8 percent VAT on fuel products.

 Kajwan’g hit at Duale for leading a walkout of members to cripple the voting on the contentious levy.

The walkout denied those opposed to the memorandum numbers to veto the President’s proposals.

The first headcount showed there were only 215 MPs in the House, a number that has since been disputed.

The law requires that at least 233 of the 349 MPs must be in the House before any voting on such matter is undertaken. 

But some MPs have contested the outcome and demanded that the  vote be retakenLitis ea nulpa cus sam, conecea vid mi, quat renim fugia sequae conseque porem aut es sint volut vendam esequid quos poreribus

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