EXPLAINED: Protests against Kenya’s controversial tax proposals?

Protests against an unpopular finance bill proposals have resulted in the deaths of at least five people in Kenya, with part of the parliament building being set on fire. Protesters argue that the bill would impose unaffordable tax increases on citizens and businesses already struggling with the high cost of living. On Tuesday, police fired live rounds at protesters, causing several deaths and hundreds of injuries. Although the government has removed some of the controversial provisions, protesters demand the complete repeal of the bill.

What Did the Original Bill Propose?

Taxes on Basic Items

The Eco Levy

  • The bill included a charge on products that contribute to waste and environmental harm.
  • Critics argued this would raise the cost of essential items like sanitary pads, causing many girls to miss school during their periods.
  • Baby nappies would also be affected.
  • The government later stated the levy would apply only to imported products.
  • The eco levy also targeted digital products like mobile phones, cameras, and recording equipment, essential for the digital economy in Kenya.
  • Following backlash, the government suggested amendments to this provision.

What Measures Remain Untouched in proposals?

Tax on Specialised Hospitals

  • The finance bill introduces a 16% tax on goods and services for constructing and equipping specialized hospitals with at least 50 beds.
  • Many Kenyans are concerned this could increase healthcare costs.
  • The chairman of the parliamentary finance committee, Kuria Kimani, has denied claims that the bill would tax cancer patients.

Higher Import Fees

  • The bill proposes increasing import taxes from 2.5% to 3% of the item’s value, to be paid by the importer.
  • This rise comes a year after the rate was reduced from 3.5% to 2.5%.
  • Protesters argue that this would lead to higher prices for imported products.

Why Did the Protests Escalate?

Why Are Protesters Still Angry against proposals?

  • Despite the removal of some proposals, other contentious measures, such as the higher import tax, remain.
  • The anger goes beyond this bill; many Kenyans feel the government does not consider their concerns.
  • Protesters have not been persuaded by President Ruto’s argument that Kenyan taxes are relatively low compared to other African countries.
  • A finance law passed last year, which introduced several unpopular taxes, also faced protests.

What Happens Next?

  • With the bill passed, the president has 14 days to either sign it into law or send it back to parliament for further amendments.
  • The government could consider other measures to ease tensions, including deferring the bill, although this is unlikely.

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