The Finance Bill in Kenya has sparked a mixed response in various sectors of the economy. The bill, introduced by the new government, proposes changes to taxes, duties, reliefs, and exemptions. However, its timing is crucial as the country is facing a high cost of living, inflation, and unemployment due to the post-Covid economy, along with challenges like severe drought and a weakening currency.
One significant aspect of the bill is the introduction of a mandatory National Housing Development Fund levy for the formal sector workforce. Both employers and employees would have to contribute three percent of the employee’s basic pay, capped at Sh5,000, to the Fund. While the aim is to provide affordable housing, these deductions would reduce employees’ take-home pay and increase employment costs for employers. Even those who already own homes or have housing loans would be obligated to contribute, putting a strain on their budgets.
To encourage participation and savings, the government should consider providing full tax relief for these contributions, especially since the maximum amount is not excessive.
The implications of the bill extend beyond individuals to businesses and the overall economy. Employers may have to freeze employment, reduce the workforce, or restructure compensation packages to manage costs. The bill also proposes taxing employee contributions withdrawn from the Fund after seven years, resulting in double taxation.
Another significant proposal is an increase in the top tax rate for individual taxes from 30 percent to 35 percent on income above Sh500,000 per month. Along with higher social security contributions and national health insurance rates, this reduces disposable incomes and can negatively impact the economy.
While the Finance Bill aims to boost tax revenue and improve tax collection, a balanced approach is crucial to ensure sustainable growth. The tax system should generate revenue without hindering economic progress and should minimize compliance costs. Broadening the tax base should be prioritized over deepening it.
Reconsideration is necessary to address the potential negative impact on businesses and individuals. The double taxation of employee contributions withdrawn from the Fund may discourage participation. The government should explore alternatives like providing tax relief for contributions and addressing concerns of existing homeowners or those with housing loans.
The recently concluded public participation period allowed for input, and the bill will undergo further debates and scrutiny before becoming law. The government should consider public feedback and engage in constructive dialogue with stakeholders.