Don’t dare tax our pay, say MPs
Published on June 19, 2008, 12:00 am
By Alex Ndegwa
Members of Parliament fought back viciously against the move by Finance Minister Amos Kimunya to tax their allowances, sending a strong signal that they would, again, scuttle the effort.
Acrimony, name-calling and finger-pointing marred debate in Parliament with MPs clashing over KimunyaÕs proposal to tax their allowances.
The proposal in last weekÕs Budget to amend the law to provide for taxation of allowances for MPs and holders of constitutional offices, including judges, opened a new battlefront, a clear indication that Kimunya had touched a raw nerve.
While it attracted support from Cabinet ministers, some who had voiced support for it outside Parliament, the proposal triggered fury from MPs who back the formation of the Grand Official Opposition.
It was even opposed by some in Government, with at least three assistant ministers voicing disapproval.
Debate over the tax question showed that MPs were touchy over attempts to scrape off anything from lucrative allowances that have consistently come under sharp criticism.
MPs only pay tax on Sh200,000 that is designated as pay. At 30 per cent tax bracket, this would amount to Sh60,000 an MP. But allowances, which form the bulk of their earnings are untouched.
This is the second year in a row that Kimunya has proposed to tax the allowances, going a step further this time by lining it up for amendment alongside other budgetary proposals.
Assistant ministers Peter Kenneth (Planning and National Development), Sospeter OjaamongÕ (Labour) and Orwa Ojodeh (Internal Security) urged the Finance Minister to reconsider the position.
Kenneth pointedly appealed to the minister not to Òplay to the galleryÓ, saying the controversial taxation should not be used to drive a wedge between the electorate and their parliamentary representatives.
ÒI appeal to the minister to look at the cost-benefit analysis of this move,Ó Kenneth told the House.
Ojaamong was emphatic that MPsÕ allowances should remain intact. Ojodeh thumped his feet in approval.
But Livestock minister Mohammed Kuti backed the taxation proposal that Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Martha Karua had supported the previous day.
On a day of heated exchanges, Kangundo MP Johnstone Muthama sparked outrage when he supported the proposal, saying he was aware it was not popular among MPs Òbut I am not here to befriend anyoneÓ.
ÒIf the common mwananchi is paying taxes, I want to pay tax too,Ó Muthama declared as he contributed to the debate on last weekÕs Budget speech.
His remark angered MPs Bonny Khalwale (Ikolomani, New Ford-K) and Charles Kilonzo (Yatta, ODM-K) who said individuals who had reaped from ill-gotten wealth were the ones calling for tax cuts Ònow that they had enriched themselvesÓ.
Khalwale accused Muthama of having benefited from Sh40 million of the multi-billion shilling Goldenberg scandal.
The Temporary Speaker, Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara, had a hectic time controlling the House as debate got nasty.
Khalwale, who is the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, threatened to table a list of beneficiaries of the scam, Òwho include MuthamaÓ, to expose leadersÕ dishonesty.
Those opposed to the proposal argued that legislators were already burdened by their constituentsÕ needs.
The following are excerpts of the heated debate:
I will lobby for taxation of MPsÕ allowances and I know this will be unpopular with some of my colleagues. But I am not here to befriend anyone. If the common mwananchi is paying tax, I want to pay tax too.Khalwale:
Taxation of MPsÕ allowances is not the solution to KenyansÕ problems. The honourabe member benefited from Sh40 million of Goldenberg money.Imanyara:
Khalwale you are overruled. (Debate resumes, but is interrupted by more ugly exchanges)Charles Kilonzo:
It is wrong to tax MPsÕ allowances because legislators foot funeral, hospital and bursary bills incurred by their constituents. Most of those calling for tax cuts are in court facing graft charges related to Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing. After making their money, they want the rest of us to get pay cuts. The fact that you are an elected MP doesnÕt cleanse you of evil deeds.Muthama:
If he (Kilonzo) was to take stock of himself, he would realise he was brought up with that money. His father was a Police Commissioner (former Police Chief the late Philip Kilonzo).Imanyara:
Hon Muthama, you are out of order.Kilonzo:
The guilty are always afraid. I had not mentioned him (Muthama). Can I now go ahead and name him.Khalwale:
Those MPs who ripped the country apart through Goldenberg schemes are now pretending to save Kenyans. Will I be in order to table recipients of Goldenberg funds who include Mr Muthama?
The Chair ruled. We are in serious business not looking after goats in Ukambani!
At this point, Kibwezi MP Philip Kaloki protested against improper use of language Òlike referring to an elected peopleÕs representative with things like a goatÓ.
Kenneth said Treasury should give details of how much it hoped to raise from taxing 222 MPs and the benefits.
Ojaamong and Mathira MP Ephraim Maina opposed the move, saying the huge MPsÕ perks were gobbled up in the engagement with their constituents.
ÒBefore I came to this House, I thought MPs earn too much. But today, I know itÕs nothing because we spend it meeting the needs of our constituents,Ó said Maina.