Delayed law saves consumers higher water and juice prices

Kenyan consumers have been spared higher prices of beer, juices, kerosene, water and second-hand cars after Parliament delayed the enforcement of a new law that empowers the taxman to charge new taxes that Treasury secretary Henry Rotich introduced in his June budget.

The Excise Duty Bill, which increased levies on the items, was to take effect after President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to it two weeks ago but legal experts said it needs additional legislation that Parliament is yet to pass. The cash-strapped Treasury expects to raise an additional Sh25 billion from the new levies.

The new law requires buyers of imported vehicles that are more than three- years- old and are valued at below Sh1 million to pay more in excise tax. Newer cars worth less than Sh750,000 also face higher taxes.

Consumers of water and juices that are popular with households will pay excise tax at the rate of Sh10 per litre, signalling a rise in retail prices by the same margins.

Beer is up S0 per litre and a charge of Sh10,000 will apply on motorcycles.

Treasury principal secretary Kamau Thugge said the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) would not collect taxes at the higher rates until Parliament has passed the Tax Procedures Bill. The Bill provides for the creation of uniform rules to be used in the administration of value added tax, excise duty and income tax.

READ: MPs fail to stop Uhuru’s higher taxes on cars, water, juice

The proposed law aims to make it convenient for taxpayers to meet their obligations and reduce the burden caused by the existence of separate sets of laws for each of the taxes.

“There are some clauses in the excise duty law that refer to the Tax Procedures Bill, which are still in Parliament,” Dr Thugge said, adding that talks were underway between the State Law Office and the KRA to pave the way for enforcement of sections of the excise law that are not grounded in the Bill.

“Blow to the State”

Dr Thugge expressed concern that MPs might delay passing the Bill given that they were about to go on recess on December 3, barely two weeks from now. Tax experts described the delay in passing the Bill as a blow to the State, which has been experiencing a cash crunch and slowed down release of funds for key development projects alongside payment of salaries.

“This is certainly going to impact government revenue collection targets and further affect its cash flows,” Deloitte East Africa Consulting tax partner Nikhil Hira said.

The government forfeited millions of shillings after the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on November 14 failed to include in its monthly review a Sh5.75 excise tax on a litre of kerosene, mostly used by low-income earners to light their homes and cook.

Budget shortfalls have recently forced the government to borrow heavily from the local markets, resulting in high interest rates that only eased after the Treasury got a Sh78 billion loan from foreign markets.

But the borrowing has raised concerns among Kenya’s development partners, including the World Bank, who have warned that the Sh2.9 trillion debt or 52 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) was approaching a dangerous zone.

Kenya’s budget deficit stands at 8.7 per cent of the GDP.

Mr Hira said that given the narrowing options that the government has in raising cash, it could hardly afford further delays in collecting the new excise duty. “The State is better aised to implement the Excise Act sooner. This can be done in phases as is the case with the Companies Act 2015,” he said.

Mr Rotich in June introduced the higher taxes on the consumer goods and urged MPs to prioritise the Excise Duty Bill, saying it was key to funding his Sh2.1 trillion budget.

The law requires the excise duty law to come into force within a period of three months after its publication by the Treasury secretary.

Mr Rotich was by last Friday yet to gazette the notice, tying the hands of taxman who missed his revenue collection target by Sh28 billion in the first quarter of the current financial year, boxing the government into a tight fiscal corner.

The State’s flagging revenues have prompted spending cutbacks on non-essential items like travel, hotel conferences and car expenses.

The excise tax law puts the charge on imported vehicles more than three years old at Sh200,000 and Sh150,000 for newer vehicles — a departure from the existing 20 per cent duty charged on a vehicle’s value. This means buyers of second-hand vehicles valued at below Sh1 million and newer cars below Sh750,000 will be hard hit in the new regime.

A used vehicle worth Sh800,000 will, for instance, be charged a levy of Sh200,000 as opposed to Sh160,000 based on the calculation of 20 per cent of its value.

On the flipside, the flat excise levy favours buyers of used cars valued more than Sh1 million and newer cars above Sh750,000 based on the flat fee of Sh150,000 for new cars.

Mr Hira said the enactment of the Tax Procedures Bill, which harmonises rules of different tax laws, would help reduce hassles for taxpayers.

“It is currently very confusing for the taxpayer so the procedures Bill is critical,” said Mr Hira.

Cigarettes, which are currently taxed at the rate of Sh1,200 per 1,000 sticks (mille), will be charged Sh2,500 per mille under the new law, or Sh1.30 up per stick.

The Treasury has also introduced a flat tax rate of Sh100 per litre of beer, up from between Sh70 per litre and 50 per cent of the ex-factory price while wine is levied Sh150 a litre.

Plastic shopping bags, which have long been blamed for pollution due to improper disposal, attract a charge of Sh120 per kilo.

Industry lobby Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) yesterday said there is need for the government to provide a clear picture of when the excise law would take effect to help its members plan.

“There should be no retroactive application of the Act,” said KAM chief executive Phyllis Wakiaga citing the need for a speedy enactment of the tax procedures law.