At least 10 protesters were killed during protests, and a section of parliament went up in flames as demonstrations against new tax proposals in Kenya escalated this week.

This was an international news agency’s report on the violence that ensued in Nairobi after a controversial Finance Bill 2024 passed in Parliament despite nationwide protests by Kenyans demanding its rejection.

Kenyan news channel KTN News reported that 195 lawmakers voted in favour of the Bill, 106 voted against while three votes were spoilt.

But an angry crowd broke through police lines to storm parliament in the capital, before setting parts of it ablaze. In an address on Tuesday evening, President William Ruto said all means would be deployed to “thwart any attempts by dangerous criminals to undermine the security and stability of our country”.

He deployed the military to quell the protests. Simon Kigondu, president of the Kenya Medical Association, told the AFP news agency that the figure of deaths was “not the final number”.

However, on Wednesday, Kenya’s president said he would withdraw planned tax rises, bowing to pressure.

“Listening keenly to the people of Kenya who have said loudly that they want nothing to do with this finance bill 2024, I concede. And therefore, I will not sign the 2024 finance bill, and it shall subsequently be withdrawn,” he said in a televised address.

Less than 5,000 kilometres away, there is similar resentment in Pakistan.

The Budget proposals 2024-25 in Pakistan have seen taxes going up further, some of them on essentials and salaries.

An alliance of the salaried class, which was formed last year, has seen mushroom growth in enrollment on its WhatsApp groups.

Members of this group also held a press conference at the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Tuesday. In what was, in all likelihood, their first media appearance, members representing Pakistan’s salaried group held a short and concise press briefing, listing their complaints and appealing to Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb to pay heed.

“Landlords who earn 20% of GDP from agriculture pay less than 1% in taxes, while wage earners are paying up to 35%,” read a statement issued by the Alliance.

“There is only one class – the salaried class in Pakistan – that pays full income tax, and the tax burden was already very high. This middle class has been broken in the recent budget,” were comments passed by a member of the group.

They argued that instead of widening the tax net, the already depressed salaried group has been further burdened.

It was also highlighted that the movement of educated people from Pakistan to foreign countries has increased by 119% in the last one year, and, according to media reports, a major reason for this is the brutal increase in taxes.

Apart of Pakistan’s salaried group, other formal sectors have also voiced concern. The American Business Council shared its concerns, salt industry outright rejected proposals, and so did the private schools & colleges association.

But the worst part is: their concerns fell on deaf ears.

Instead, what Aurangzeb announced in his wrap-up budget remarks was an honoraria for NA, Senate staff. Some tax proposals were apparently reversed, but a handful.

All this begs the question: what needs to happen for Pakistan’s policymakers to understand that the public is sick and tired. Sick of the inconsistent policymaking, favours to informal sectors, and outright short vision.

No one is really thinking about Pakistan. This budget could have been the start to a real reform programme. All we heard was talk and warnings. No real action.

On ground, the resentment has reached far and wide. Don’t test the patience.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Bilal Hussain

The writer is a Reporter at Business Recorder (Digital)

Comments

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Willow Jun 30, 2024 02:00pm
They will listen and understand better when an AJK like protest movement will start. Drums are beating in the distance.
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Usman Jul 01, 2024 01:03pm
Well Fin Minister has reduced tax on banking profits (Govt lending). Shows his mindset.
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