I write this letter to you amidst the flurry over the Finance Bill 2023; which is set to be tabled in Parliament by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Prof. Njuguna Ndung’u next month.
The bill, or budget, as it is commonly known, proposes a number of taxes aimed at raising revenue that will help you realise your transformative agenda for the country.
Among the things being proposed is the introduction of contributions to the National Housing Development Fund – as well as a proposal to impose 16 percent tax on petrol and kerosene, up from the current 8 percent.
Your Excellency, when we last met, you shared with me how you love to hear from the hustlers on the ground; and I can tell you, things are tough.
The hustlers are feeling pushed to the limit. The people in the informal settlements really have hope in you. They feel this is their government, the government of hustlers.
Mr. President, you need to come out clearly; how will this work? For someone earning Ksh.25,000, if we deduct NHIF, NSSF and the Housing Levy, what they remain with is around Ksh.12,000.
This person spends an average of Ksh.150 on fare per day to go to work, some are even forced to walk to save as little as Ksh.20. They have to eat, pay rent, school fees and much more from this. We also have some earning Ksh.15,000 or less, who are worse off.
As you work on your policies, please ensure that the hustlers are not pushed to the ground. They had hope that unga would go down and thanks to you, it has started going down, but now their question is; how will they make ugali if they cannot afford gas and paraffin? With the proposed tax on petroleum products, bus fare is going up.
Mr. President, my advice for you is; please ensure that the prices of basic commodities that the hustlers use every day do not skyrocket because as I write to you, even sugar is out of reach.
It is critical that bus fare for hustlers does not increase. And Yes, they want good houses as you promised but the proposed cut from their salaries to pay this will really hurt.
Your Excellency, the hustlers are worried about this budget. Please, remove some of these taxes for their sake. I want to be objective because I realise the difficult position the country finds itself in.
Kenya is facing a debt crisis and I know that in the next 10 years, we may be spending more than 60 percent of our taxes to service debts. We find ourselves in a fix and we feel you.
However, the hustlers that I meet every day are asking you the Commander-in-Chief to cut the waste in government because it is the only way to fight this debt crisis.
When they read that your office, and that of your deputy and Prime Cabinet Secretary have been allocated Ksh.802 million to buy new luxury cars, that your Economic Advisor is admitting how the government is extremely wasteful, it feels like a kick in the teeth.
When I met you and I looked into your eyes, I saw a man with a heavy burden but a determination to transform the country.
Mr. President, you are the hustler numero uno, but from your vantage point you may not be in a position to see and that is why the hustlers have sent me to tell you this. Don’t forget them, even though times are tough.
I was in Mathare two weeks ago and met Jane Njeri who told me: “Kennedy, you always meet these big people, can you tell them what we are feeling? The price of kerosene is up and it is going to double. How will I cook?”
In Mombasa, Aisha Juma who lives in Kisauni had the same concerns. She talked about the cost of gas and your promise to lower it to Ksh.300 by June 1, 2023. I don’t know how she is feeling now after you said in your media interview that it might not be possible as promised.
Mr. Chief Hustler, these are just a couple of the several hustlers that I met but the cry from all of them is the same.
Your Excellency, as we know, most people around you forgot about the struggle when you got to power and may not tell you the truth. That is why I feel I should bring the voices of hustlers to you.
We are waiting for answers. May God bless Kenya and may we thrive in these hard economic times. Cut from government spend, and not from the empty pockets of the poor.
[The writer – Dr. Kennedy Odede – is the founder and CEO of Shofco, a member of USAid Advisory Board, World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, multiple humanitarian award winner, including 2022 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year, best-selling author. Twitter @KennedyOdede]