Columnists

On fuel, MPs shedding crocodile tears

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An attendant at a fuel station in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has led to loss of jobs, reduced earnings and piled huge pressures on families and their budgets.
  • When the announcement was made, Members of Parliament, in both the Senate and the National Assembly and across the political divide, were up in arms against the increase.

The announcement of the new prices for fuel in the country for the next one month sparked public outcry. The average increase of Sh8 per litre from the then obtaining prices, comes at a time when the economy has shrunk, and Kenyans are struggling to afford basis needs.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to loss of jobs, reduced earnings and piled huge pressures on families and their budgets.

When the announcement was made, Members of Parliament, in both the Senate and the National Assembly and across the political divide, were up in arms against the increase.

This, under normal circumstances, should be something to celebrate.

To see our elected representatives staying true to their constitutional responsibility of representing the interests of the citizenry and speaking up against unfair taxation measures is something to applaud.

However, the reality is that the loud shouts were more for the cameras and your vote in 2022 than about true concern for your plight.

To be clear, the decision by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) is unconscionable.

It is worse when the bulk of the cost is comprised of taxes. It is failing to appreciate the hard economic times that citizens are going through.

One wonders what the rationale of government giving tax reliefs and other social safety nets to citizens in 2020 was for if the same government intended to wipe out those gains through fuel prices.

While Kenyans are entitled to be angry, MPs must stop shedding crocodile tears. When the tax on fuel was originally introduced, the current MPs were all in Parliament.

They, therefore, cannot pretend to have woken up to the consequence of their decisions today. Public outcry then just as now was widespread and should have pricked their conscience.

They can argue that the Executive arm-twisted them into passing the law. However, we elect them to stand up for our rights.

The Constitution not only gives them the responsibility but also equips them with enough protection to ensure that they deliver on those duties.

In addition, taxpayers spend a colossal amount of money on them to not only make them comfortable but also to ensure that they have the support infrastructure to discharge on their constitutional responsibility. They failed on this duty in 2018.

Epra is just implementing the law as passed by parliamentarians. The genesis of our problem is the decision to impose high VAT on fuel.

If one assesses the current fuel prices it will be clear that the majority of costs are taxes. It is unconscionable to impose tax on a product to an extent that the levy is more than the actual cost of the product.

Critically, since the MPs have woken up to the reality that they are expected to represent citizens’ interests, it is important that citizens audit their role in the economic situation the country finds itself in.

That audit should not be clouded by their action last week over the fuel increase but must be undertaken against a yardstick that focuses on their constitutional mandate and on a timescale of the entire five years period when they are expected to discharge the functions bestowed on them by the electorate.

This should start from a discussion on what role they each play in discussing the budget proposals, approving the actual estimates, interrogating the legislative proposals and finally exercising oversight over the agencies responsible for execution of the approved policy and legislative enactments.

Each legislator must be able to demonstrate against this yardstick what they have done to protect the public interest on the question of fuel prices. They, for example, passed a new law on energy and another on petroleum in 2019.

Every MP must get us their contributions on both laws from the Hansard. They need to show that they were against such unconscionable policy decisions. Only by doing so will they be able to show us that they care for our interests.

Such an audit will demonstrate that the majority of those we elected to the current Parliament have been more about self-aggrandizement and less about citizen welfare.