In a striking reversal of his pre-election stance, President William Ruto of Kenya has sparked widespread public discontent with his proposal to double the Value Added Tax (VAT) on petroleum products from 8% to 16%. His attempt to increase national revenue through the Finance Bill 2023 is being met with fierce opposition from a populace that feels betrayed by the broken promise of tax relief.
Amos Wandawa, a motorcycle taxi operator, or boda boda rider, in Kapsabet, Nandi County, voiced his concerns about the proposed tax hike’s impact on his livelihood. “Fuel costs are already burdensome, and doubling taxes will significantly erode my income,” Wandawa shared. His daily earnings, ranging from KSh 800 to KSh 1,200, are heavily dependent on the fluctuating price of petrol. “Imagine needing four customers at KSh 50 each just to afford one liter of petrol. If this proposal passes, it spells disaster for us in the boda boda sector,” Wandawa warned.
The current situation has also reignited interest in a video from the 2022 presidential debate where Ruto, then the leader of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), criticized the heavy tax burden on petroleum, which accounts for nearly 50% of the fuel cost in Kenya. He claimed that about 15 different taxes were imposed on petroleum products and promised to reassess them once in power.
“We need to scrutinize these 15 taxes and determine which ones can be eliminated, thereby aligning Kenya with other countries that limit fuel taxation,” Ruto stated during the debate. His present stance, however, appears to be in stark contrast with these earlier sentiments, stirring up further controversy.
The public outcry against the proposed hike is a clear reflection of the hard-pressed Kenyan citizens’ growing frustrations and their longing for a more considerate economic policy that would prioritize the welfare of the everyday worker. As the debate on the Finance Bill 2023 continues, the ball remains in Ruto’s court to decide whether to uphold his initial promise or proceed with the new tax policy.