Azimio La Umoja leader Raila Odinga on Sunday criticised President William Ruto over his crackdown on tax evaders.
Ruto, who maintains that the tax evasion debate is not politically motivated, has recently accused powerful figures in previous governments of exempting themselves from paying taxes.
The push has been perceived as President Ruto’s vengeance on his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta who, together with Kenya’s second president, the late Daniel Moi, is exempted from paying tax under the Estate Duty Act.
According to Odinga, however, Ruo should first weed out tax evaders and “criminals” who he says have populated the government.
“Tax cheats and all sorts of criminals are with Ruto in his government but he is pretending to be looking for criminals outside his government,” the opposition leader told supporters at the Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi.
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In a passionate speech titled ‘The Kibra declaration’, Odinga accused the head of state of double standards in the fight against tax evasion and corruption, citing the recent multi-billion-shilling corruption charges involving President Ruto’s allies which have in recent days been dropped.
Just last week, some Ksh.202 million belonging to Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, which was forfeited to the state after the High Court determined he could not prove how he obtained the money, was handed back to him.
The Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) on Wednesday said that after gathering new evidence, they found out that the money was not proceeds of crime and that the deputy president has explained the source and legitimacy of the said money to satisfaction.
“We have a situation where if a poor man steals, he goes to jail but if a rich man steals, he becomes a minister or a CEO,” said Odinga.
“The law exempting presidents from tax was passed by Parliament in 1982, but it appears Ruto and Gachagua do not know that,” he added.
He told the president and his deputy to leave tax matters to the Kenya Revenue Authority and stop “speaking ill” of former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, describing her as a dignified figure.
Ruto’s administration, which he campaigned for on the premise of fighting for the ordinary Kenyans dubbed ‘Hustlers’, has instead turned out to be a billionaires’ government “that has no room for the poor,” Odinga said.
He downplayed Ruto’s intensive tax collection campaign as “pick-pocketing the poor to feed the rich friends.”
‘Ruto must go’
At the same time, Odinga repeated his claim that Ruto’s August 2022 election win was not genuine and rallied supporters to oppose the Kenya Kwanza administration.
“We still maintain that Ruto got into State House by hijacking and subverting the will of the people. He must get out!” he said.
Odinga said Ruo has gone ahead to govern with what he called contempt for Kenyans and institutions, “as if “hijacking and subverting the will of the people is not bad enough”.
He announced that his nationwide rallies to mobilise Kenyans to reject President Ruto’s government continue next week.
Odinga said the Azimio coalition will tour Machakos on Friday, before heading to Busia on Sunday.
Mama Ngina, NCBA Bank speak
Mama Ngina Kenyatta on Saturday broke her silence on the tax evasion allegations levelled against her family, dismissing them as pointless politicisation of tax matters.
Accusing politicians of peddling lies so that they can be seen to be working, the 89-year-old matriarch said tax matters can be addressed through government channels and, if need be, law courts, adding that public rallies have no place in matters taxation.
She dared the government to auction her property and belongings in order to settle any perceived debt if it is indeed true that she has not been paying her taxes.
Meanwhile NCBA Bank, which the Kenyatta family has a 53 per cent stake in, admitted to benefiting from a Ksh.350 million tax waiver during the merger between NIC Group PLC and Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) back in 2019.
NCBA Managing Director John Gachora on Thursday said should the court find NCBA to have contravened any tax-related law, following the waiver which has been a subject of public debate, they will pay without hesitation.
“NCBA is one of the biggest taxpayers. In 2021, we paid taxes of Ksh.6.7 billion, in 2022, we paid Ksh. 14.3 billion in taxes. Ksh.350 million in the context of what we pay in taxes is nothing,” Gachora said then.