Monday, June 17, 2024

We need to learn, again, how to think

I don't think the parliamentarians of the National Assembly will heed the call and #RejectFinanceBill2024. They will tinker. They will vacillate. They will fulminate fulsomely. They will vamp for the cameras. But they will absolutely, definitely not reject the Finance Bill. They will, instead, vote overwhelmingly for the tax proposals contained in the Bill. Not one tax will be rescinded. Not one exemption that has not been approved by the grandees of the IMF will be granted. The hundreds of billions that the National Treasury is looking to raise from the Bill is all that will occupy the minds of the worthies of the National Treasury.

The challenge that the prospective maandamano face tomorrow has been occasioned by a poor understanding of the budgeting process and deliberate vagueness by the mandarins of the National Treasury. More and more Kenyans are familiarising themselves with the ins and outs of the Public Finance Management Act on which the budget process relies. They have a working understanding of when the Finance Bill (and the accompanying budget documents including the Appropriation Bill, Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, Budget Policy Statement and Budget Review Outlook Paper) is supposed to be introduced in the National Assembly.

But they don't have working knowledge of how and when the tax proposals contained in the Finance Bill are made. They'd on't know who is consulted or how. They don't know how the nabobs of the national government pick which tax proposals to adopt and which ones to bin. They have no idea how the President's Council of Economic Advisors pick which industries to promote, which ones to let sink or swim, and which ones to roll back. They don't know whether or not the decision to impose a new tax is a legal issue or an economic issue. All they know, for now, is that the Budget is sent to Parliament on the 30th April of each year and enacted not law on the 30th June of each year.

That kind of ignorance is unhealthy. It allows conspiracy theorists with axes to grind to plant disinformation and misinformation, foment disaffection among the people not just for their government but their fellowman, and spread chaos abroad in the land. It is an historical irony that in the digital age, so many more people know so little about their government and how it functions.  With so much information at our fingertips, literally, it is amazing how easy it is to sow confusion by dropping a few tasty conspiratorial statements into the ether and watch an entire nation freak out over shit they should absolutely, definitely ignore.

When it comes to matters which we must hold our elected and appointed government officials to account, we need to be more strategic and intentional in which information we focus on and what we ignore. This is made harder when every institution designed to educate and inform has been hollowed out by greed and corruption. It falls on individual effort, but that effort is so much the harder when we are bombarded with distractions all day long. #RejectFinanceBill2024 has in all certainty been infested by the forces of chaos and confusion. While it will go off without a hitch (taking into account Kenya's rung-wielding police tendencies), it will not lead to an abrogation of the Finance Bill. It would behoove us to teach ourselves, afresh, how to think.

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