On 6th August this year, the National Assembly of the Kenya government unanimously approved the controversial Value Added Tax bill which saw amendments that reinstated taxes on basic food items and necessities that have always been zero rated and exempt.
The poor Kenyan can barely afford precious commodities like milk, whose price has risen by KShs.15 per litre. This means that many children will go without the precious nourishment. One is left to wonder why the price should be this high, bearing in mind that it is a basic commodity. Did President Uhuru Kenyatta have to assent to this controversial Bill that imposed tax on dairy products?
Hardest hit are school going children, whose parents have to dig much deeper into their pockets in order to buy them exercise and text books, which have also attracted a 16% VAT. It is sad how much higher the rate of school drop outs is going to be soon. Electricity and mobile phones will go back to being a preserve of the rich as they haven’t been spared tax-wise either. It irks to know that these are goods that have always been exempted from tax, zero rated. Not forgotten are farm chemicals and fertilizers, whose 16% tax slap translates to an upcoming shortage of food, thus starvation lurking in the near horizon for subsistence farmers. Cash crop farmers will also feel the pinch since theirs is the same piece of land whose cost of production and input is going to grow higher than the proceeds from therein. This further translates to a hungry nation, as it is not likely that enough food will be produced to sustain the country, whose population keeps rising fast. The Information and Communication Technology, (ICT) sector has also been hard hit, what with hardware and software for computers attracting a 16% VAT too. This means that taking computer lessons, which has in the recent past been very affordable is going to be a herculean task for the youth who have traditionally ventured into the same to take certificate courses before joining the job hunting populace. Last July, Ipsos Synovate, a research organization, carried out a study that revealed that out of every 10 people interviewed, 9 were against the tax slap on basic consumables like milk, exercise and text books and electricity, which they predicted would raise the cost of living to an all time high. Even so, Henry Rotich, the Cabinet Secretary at Treasury justifies that this is aimed at the government’s need to raise an annual turnover of KShs. 10 Billion from the new law. It goes without saying that the poorer will sink into greater depths of poverty, even as the rich rise to astronomical heights of riches, all at the expense of the tax payer, in this case, the poor common Kenyan. Meanwhile, the politicians of the day continue pitting the people against each other, tribally, who in turn go on a killing spree, with neighbor rising against neighbor. It seems like the lessons learnt during and after the 2007/8 Post Election Violence that left thousands of innocent Kenyans dead and hundreds of thousands more still internally displaced have already been forgotten. It doesn’t matter that they both face the same hurdles at the grass roots, never mind that the politician couldn’t care less if they died or survived. Their children starve and thirst for an education, dropping out of unaffordable schools, even as the politicians’ own study abroad.
According to the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), Kenya’s economy is fragile and must be cushioned against external incursions by cheap imports from the more developed economies, which is where we are headed. Our taxation policies must be structured to offer that support, a vital step in reforming the tax system for efficiency and effectiveness. It heralds a big component in growing tomorrow’s economy for Kenya. In order to move forward, consideration should be given to amending the Bill to take into account the weighty concerns raised.
Economical justice is necessary, and thereby priorities be revised sanely, for peace to prevail because there can be no peace without justice.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Op-Eds