Azimio leaders question Ruto’s economic policies amid rising cost of living

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition principles have asked President William Ruto to stick to the Kenya Kwanza manifesto which promises Kenyans of all classes a better life, low cost of living and an inclusive government.

This comes hot on the heels of the proposal by the National Treasury to increase the cost of bread and other commodities used by the common mwananchi in the Finance Bill 2024.

Azimio leaders believe that the President’s “hustler” narrative has lost its meaning, unlike during the campaign period.

While addressing a congregation in Embakasi South on Sunday, May 12, Wiper Democratic Movement leader Kalonzo Musyoka said that the opposition will not sit down and watch as Kenyans are burdened by new taxes.

Mr Musyoka said that if the Finance Bill sails through Parliament without amendments in areas that directly affect Kenyans, then the opposition will engage with their supporters and resume demonstrations.

“Even the price of bread is going up. If you deny Kenyans bread, what are you doing? We’re giving you an early warning. It is not a threat I don’t believe in threats. I believe in reasoning with the people,” said Mr Musyoka Mr Kalonzo who was accompanied by Democratic Action Party-Kenya (DAP-K) leader Eugene Wamalwa.

He said that sometimes, even democratic countries have to think of civil disobedience to safeguard the Constitution.

The Wiper chief said that it was an absolute act of callousness for the President to accept the nickname “Zakayo” (the name of a tax collector in the Bible), without considering what prompted Kenyans to call him that.

Mr Kalonzo and Mr Wamalwa said that the candidacy of Azimio leader Raila Odinga for the African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson’s seat will not stop other coalition leaders from summoning Kenyans to demonstrate.

“Pray for the opposition team in this country. We will continue criticising the government because this is our calling for now so that we can live peaceful lives. Otherwise, we will suffer,” said Mr Kalonzo.

In the case of Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi who faced impeachment in Parliament over the fake fertiliser scandal, Azimio has asked Dr Ruto to demonstrate to Kenyans his resolve to fight against against corruption by sending the CS home.

“If I was Ruto, who is ready to fly to the US in the next few days, I would just sack this man and go and tell US President Joe Biden that I don’t support corruption. But he won’t do that. Ruto is in a hard place,” he said.

While the President is promising Kenyans better days ahead, Treasury seems to be reading from a different script. The Treasury has proposed an increase in excise duties on fees for mobile money transfer services like M-Pesa and money transfer charges in banks, money transfer agencies and saccos from 15 to 20 per cent.

This will see the cost of mobile money transfer, airtime and data increase; reversing the cuts that had been made in the 2023 Finance Act.

Kenyans earning from the digital marketplace, including taxi hailing and food delivery, will start paying a digital service tax of 1.5 per cent.

Further, the Treasury is also proposing to introduce a controversial environmental levy on a wide range of goods like mobile phones, TVs and batteries, with charges ranging from Sh98 per item to Sh1, 275.

The latest development comes at a time when the government has been aggressively driving investment in internet connectivity and technology to attract the jobless.

Youth digital content creators, an industry that has attracted the youth, offering an alternative to a population hard hit by unemployment.

The tax increase will have a huge impact on thousands of youth who currently earn a living from the digital space.

The government is also proposing increasing excise on betting and gaming stakes for a second straight year from 12.5 percent in 2023 to 20 percent.

Exacerbating the pain on the hustler base, the government is also proposing a two-tier excise system for motorcycle imports of Sh130,000 and above, affecting the price of main motorcycles with engine capacity of 100cc or more and in turn pushing them out of reach of many Kenyans.

During the 2022 campaigns, Dr Ruto promised Kenyans in his bottom-up economic model that high cost of living would be history under him, that hunger would be eradicated, and thousands of jobs would be created for the jobless Kenyans.

But barely two years after Kenya Kwanza Alliance came to power, new taxes have been introduced. This will make life even harder for “hustlers” — a key constituency he capitalised on to win the presidency during the 2022 General Election.

The controversial Finance Act 2023 was the first nail in the coffin of the “hustlers” under Dr Ruto, as it heralded a raft of punitive taxes and levies.

At the heart of the punishing taxes was the doubling of the value-added tax on most petroleum products to 16 percent as well as scrapping of kerosene and diesel subsidies.

Adding to the pain was a three percent deduction on the salaries of all tax-paying Kenyans to fund an affordable housing programme, a 2.75 percent hospital insurance fund levy, and a three percent turnover (gross sales) tax on small businesses, as the current regime set its eyes on Sh289 billion additional revenue.

The Federation of Kenya Employees reported 70,000 Kenyans lost their jobs during the first year of Dr Ruto’s presidency, with more workers at risk as employers consider cutting more job cuts.

The lobby blamed the implementation of the controversial Finance Act, of 2023 as the genesis of Kenyans’ woes.

Despite warnings that the new tax measures will hit Kenyans hard, and many people are struggling to make ends meet due to the soaring cost of living and runaway unemployment levels, the President is back again for more.

According to a 2023 Kenya Economic Report by the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra), most workers still earn below minimum wage, accounting for 77 per cent of total workers, out of which 29 percent and 71 percent are in the formal and informal sectors, respectively.

A December 2023 survey by Tifa showed that Kenya Kwanza supporters are the most disillusioned with the state of affairs in the country. Supporters of President Ruto’s administration are the most disappointed with the performance of the government.

The survey showed that the Kenya Kwanza supporters believe that the current regime has performed poorly in tackling the high cost of living, creating jobs and fighting corruption.

Read: Vodka, whisky prices to go up on higher levies

The poll indicated that a majority of Kenyans, at 84 percent, believe that the economic conditions in the country had worsened compared to a year ago.

The situation has led to 87 percent of Kenyans reducing personal expenditure due to the high living expenses. Transport, clothing and entertainment have particularly taken a hit as people find ways to survive the economic crisis.

The President has, however, defended his administration, saying the government is doing all in its power to grow the economy and ensure the wellbeing of all citizens.

He explained that significant progress has been made in managing inflation, stabilising the currency and addressing the country’s debt.

“Our economic policies have also lowered the prices of basic goods, easing pressure on workers,” he said.

To add insult to injury, it took the government 56 days to end a doctors’ strike that paralysed services across the country in all the government and county hospitals, leaving Kenyans with no option but to dig deeper into their pockets to be able to afford services in private hospitals. Those who were not lucky watched their loved ones dying in excruciating pain in hospitals and homes.

This as floods wreaked havoc across the country, leaving more than 200 people dead, scores missing and others homeless. In addition, schools are to reopen today after a week’s delay, yet some still host people displaced by the floods.

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