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Uhuru cuts VAT, opts to tighten spending

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PRESIDENT Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday bowed to public pressure and proposed to have the tax on petroleum products cut by half from the current 16 to eight per cent.

In a move aimed at placating donors while at the same time appeasing the public, Kenyatta said the decision will bring down the price of petrol from Sh127 to Sh118.

But as a trade off, the government will embrace cost-cutting measures and budget cuts to plug the deficit.

With the VAT down to eight per cent, the government will now collect Sh17.5 billon a month down from an earlier projection of Sh35 billion.

“But still we face a financing gap. This measure will not suffice to balance our budget, as required by law,” he said.

He accused MPs of playing to the gallery by sacrificing Kenya’s ambitions and instead resorting to bad politics.

The ball is now back with the same MPs who will, through a special sitting scheduled for next week, endorse Kenyatta’s proposal or stick to their earlier position and demand the entire 16 per cent be suspended until 2020.

The budget cuts target hospitality, foreign and domestic travel, seminars and training.

National Treasury CS Henry Rotich will prepare a supplementary budget to be tabled in the National Assembly on Thursday with a raft of Kenyatta’s suggestions to redistribute allocations.

MPs had on August 30 unanimously voted to delay, for a further two years, the 16 per cent VAT tax, which had already been postponed twice since 2013.

However, Kenyatta, who has been unusually silent over the debate yesterday explained his position in a live broadcast detailing why he has sent the Bill back to MPs.

Read: Uhuru cuts fuel VAT to 8%, State hospitality expenditure

“The Finance Bill 2018/19 brought to me yesterday (Thursday) fell short of this threshold. It protected the status quo and sacrificed the bigger vision. It took the easy path, instead of rising to the challenges of our time. It was good politics, but bad leadership,” he said.

MPs have the option of garnering a two-thirds majority or 233 MPs to overturn Uhuru’s decision and revert to their earlier proposal to suspend the law, pass the President’s proposals as contained in his memorandum or suggest amendments.

Uhuru said the country has no option, but to accept taxation on petroleum products to spur growth.

“Fellow Kenyans, we have a country to transform, and we must make bold decisions to achieve our vision. As President, it is my responsibility to put Kenyans first, those living today, and your children, who will inherit the country tomorrow,” he appealed.

This calls for a balance between short term pain and long-term gain.

He said traders must of necessity bring down the price of commodities and services in line with his new proposal.

To rally troops behind his budget cuts and eight per cent VAT proposal, the President and Deputy President William Ruto will on Tuesday morning meet all Jubilee MPs at State House, Nairobi.

“We will have our PG [Parliamentary Group] at State House. We want to speak in one voice and would want to listen to the President,” a Jubilee leader told the Star yesterday.

National assembly minority party ODM has also summoned its MPs for a PG on the same day to deliberate on the proposal and take a common position.

In an indication of a split in positions, ODM said it would rally its members to veto Kenyatta.

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“As minority leader and ODM chairman we are not going to accept any additional taxation. It is our considered opinion as a party that fuel products are already overtaxed, hence no need for further taxation,” said Minority Leader John Mbadi.

He added:“Even the eight per cent proposal is not good for our economy as it will have ripple effects which will trigger rise in prices of essential goods and services. As a coalition, we are going to ask our members to overrule the President on this.”

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has convened a special sitting on Tuesday afternoon and two sittings on Thursday to consider the President’s memorandum on the Finance Bill as well as the expected supplementary budget.

Deatils: Uhuru remains silent on contentious fuel tax in first public appearance

The President said Kenyans should not be worried that their taxes will be misused as he has proposed to increase the budget of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Director of Public Prosecution and the Judiciary to tighten the noose on corrupt elements.

Reacting to the President, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi welcomed the concession saying completely removing the tax would have been counterproductive.

“He has heard Kenyans and done one better than Parliament in the reduction of VAT to eight per cent. He even bettered my proposed reduction to either 10 per cent or 12 per cent,” he said in a statement.

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria while welcoming the reduction on VAT said MPs would further make budget cuts over and above what the President has proposed to raise over Sh100 billion.

“We are going to keenly look at the supplementary budget and make more savings. It is important that we do away with non-essential expenditures in favour of development,” he said.

Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka said while Kenyans continued to be burdened by taxes, the resources end up in a few people’s pockets.

“I disagree with the President on this one with due respect. We don’t need to tax Kenyans any more. We need to do away with big projects that are not making any returns and have no value to Kenyans,” said the MP who sits in the budget committee.

Onyonka said the President is being hypocritical in his proposal to reduce the tax from 16 per cent to just eight per cent without declaring how he will tackle corruption.

Also Read: Uhuru rejects Finance Bill shelving 16% VAT on fuel

“The problem with our country is not that we are not collecting revenue, the problem is that we are misappropriating resources,” he said.

ODM treasurer Timothy Bosire said MPs must explore alternatives of raising revenue without impacting negatively on the livelihoods of Kenyans.

“This was a reasonable reduction in VAT. MPs should scrutinise the supplementary budget properly to cushion Kenyans from high cost of living,” said Bosire.

Nyando MP Jared Okello said that taxation remained a burden even at eight per cent

“We shall continue to reject this proposal in the house until it comes down to zero. We are not beholden to International Monetary Funds fiscal proposals, or any other Bretton Woods institution.”

Nominated senator Rose Nyamunga said Kenyans are already overburdened and that on Tuesday MPs should vote with their conscience.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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