By: JOHN NGIRACHU
Debate on proposed taxes on cigarettes, cars, juices and motorcycles ground to a halt last evening over differences between the President and National Assembly’s Finance Committee.
President Kenyatta has recommended that unsweetened fruit juices be charged excise duty of Sh10 a litre, cars over three years old Sh200,000, those less than three years old Sh150,000, cigarettes Sh2,500 a mille (1,000) and a motorcycle Sh10,000.
Members of the committee said President Uhuru Kenyatta had become involved in law making by rejecting their amendments.
Committee chairman Benjamin Lang’at said the President had been misled by his advisors and the Treasury.
“A group of people is sitting somewhere watching Parliament and knowing we can’t raise two-thirds are waiting to make laws,” said Mr Lang’at.
He said adopting the President’s memorandum would rubbish all the amendments passed by MPs in August.
“Some people in the name of advisors are making the law. All 349 members cannot be fools,” said Mr Lang’at. Mr Lang’at’s vigorous defence of the finance committee set off furious debate over what the President should do when he had “reservations” on a Bill.
At least two-thirds of members of the House are needed to vote against the President’s reservation.
Speaker Justin Muturi ruled that to give MPs an opportunity to rally two-thirds of the members required to reject the President’s memorandum, the Bill will be dealt with on Wednesday.
Kibwezi West MP Patrick Musimba initiated the move to halt the debate.
Mr Langa’t’s statements however attracted a furious reaction from Majority Leader Aden Duale and Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Samuel Chepkong’a.
“If he knows someone is misadvising the President, he should bring it here instead of making innuendos,” said Mr Chepkong’a.
Saying Parliament’s powers to make laws are not absolute, he added: “If there is any one Member of Parliament who won more votes than the President of Kenya, let him stand up.”
Mr Duale weighed in, saying MPs’ decisions are subject to interpretation and annulment by the Judiciary and the President acts within his powers in rejecting bad laws.
“Parliament does not have absolute legislative powers. The law that you pass here can be challenged in the Judiciary and the whole or part of it can be struck out. This power has been used in the past. Kibaki did it and Uhuru does it,” he added.
Minority Leader Francis Nyenze and his deputy Jakoyo Midiwo also criticised the President’s recommendations.
“If there is a committee headed by Lang’at that sat and felt these changes were necessary, then there is no reason why the Executive can force us to pass a law,” said Mr Nyenze.
Mr Midiwo said the proposed duty would adversely affect manufacturers.
“There is no way you can increase excise duty on raw materials used to make sodas and juices. What do you need the money for? We know you are overstealing,” he added.
But Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa said there would be no increase in soda prices as a result and that only juices consumed by the well off would be affected.
Mvita MP Abdulswamad Sherif said the decision by the President had been roundly rejected by the committee, which had earlier tabled a report rejecting the President’s recommendations.
“There is a lot of bitterness in the committee that its proposed amendments were rejected after the President followed advice from the Treasury,” he added.
Cherangany MP Wesley Korir said Parliament should seek answers elsewhere.
“We need to know the difference between recommendation and reservation. What the President is giving us is a recommendation, not a reservation,” he said.
Mr Muturi refused to withdraw a ruling he made in July stipulating that two-thirds of the membership must vote to defeat the President’s recommendations and ordered that the Bill be discussed this afternoon.
Mr Lang’at and his supporters now have the uphill task of massing 233 MPs to support their bid to throw out the President’s memorandum.