A deputy governor in one of the counties of Eastern province, simply termed some of the proposals contained in the Kiambu county Finance Bill, 2013 as "the epitome of insanity". Many residents of Kiambu and I couldn't agree more.
The lady went on to explain the obvious fact that Kenyans are a highly taxed lot and therefore what the county governments should be looking at are ways to create subsidies and not more taxation, something some progressive county governments are already trying to do.
But by proposing to tax the dead and the chicken stew in my house, the Kiambu county government has displayed the sluggish disposition of its executive members, their lack of thinking capacity, innovativeness and total disregard for the welfare of the county's residents, especially the dead and grieving ones. Even as the rest of the country at the behest of its leadership goes digital, theirs is surely a middle age mentality.
What services does the Kiambu government give me at my small shamba where I have designated my burial site, for them to charge me Sh4,500, when those I leave behind seek to lay my body to rest? And I hear the local cemeteries (situated on godforsaken sites) in Kiambu (and maybe elsewhere) are owned by the communities whose forefathers donated a few points of land each to create these among other social amenities.
By the time most bereaved families lay their loved ones to rest, they have undergone an extremely painful time trying to raise millions to pay the highly commercial hospitals for medical bills, not to mention the funeral costs. As any member of parliament and he will tell a sizeable portion of his salary goes towards burying his constituents.
I cannot even start to imagine how families living in Shauri Yako villages scattered all over the county (the residents of these villages are poor and landless), will cope with the new 'Kabogo' fees, if the bill passes. These families cannot even afford a decent casket for their departed, let alone pay the Kiambu government the princely sum of Sh8,000. And as the Kiambu County Clergy Forum (KCCF) put it in a press release on Tuesday, "The poor dead will (indeed) have a problem with grave fees".
The rest of Kenya is seeking reconciliation and harmony among communities but in Kiambu, woe unto you if you die and want to be buried there, but you come from without. Even in death, you will be discriminated on and charged more to be laid to rest.
Residents of Kiambu, who are vehemently opposed to the Finance Bill, have vowed to resort to street demonstrations if the bill passes and resort to dumping dead bodies at the county government's offices, "for the government to bury them as we cannot afford to pay them the fees". The county leadership may care less, but I am certain it will have a mother of all protests on its hands, if the bill sails through as it is.
Instead of burdening the poor majority with bizarre taxation, the county government should demonstrate the desire to deal with the inequalities that make the county one with a few very well to do individuals while the majority wallow in extreme poverty.
Poverty incidence in Kiambu is estimated at more than 25 per cent and the extreme poverty is characterised by excessive consumption of illicit alcoholic drinks, and participation in illegal groupings such as Mungiki among others. These are people, observes James Nyoro who competed against Kabogo in the last election, who are "chronically hungry, jobless and cannot afford basic necessities such as decent housing, access to medical facilities or even basic education.
"There is therefore a very high degree of inequality existing within the county (and) any tax regime by the county government must target to reduce rather than accelerate this inequality. The taxation must ensure it promotes internal transfer of resources from those who have to the have-nots".
Nyoro advises the county government to concentrate on fostering industries and other manufacturing units, real estate development, value addition in agro processing facilities, marketing and trading among others.
The large chunk of the poor in Kiambu do not have access to proper health services and their situation could be worsened by communicable diseases as carcasses of donkeys, cows, dogs, goats, pigs and others are dumped on the roadside as residents try to avoid the county's high disposal fees. How many farmers will afford or agree to pay the county government Sh4,000 for the disposal of each and every of their valued but unfortunately (and untimely) dead animals?
Instead of being preoccupied with the dead, the Kabogo government should be seeking ways of improving agriculture, including irrigating the drier but productive areas of the county and attracting investors including real estate developers, to create jobs and wealth.
The county government should like those around them, be thinking out of the box and come up with ways of making it easier for the people of Kiambu to produce and process high-end crops and fruits in their small holder plots, enhance dairy and poultry farming and encourage real estate development for Kiambu which is Nairobi's closest 'dormitory'.
Many residents of Kiambu as elsewhere in the country, slaughter animals for the consumption of family and friends very often. Some like chicken are for normal family meals while goats and sheep are slaughtered and consumed at family/friends gatherings and I wonder how the county government will enforce the requirement that I pay them a fee when I slaughter a goat, pig or chicken at my house. Employ more 'inspectors'? At whose cost?
At the Tuesday press conference, KCCF pointed out that the county government had not called for public participation in the drafting of the bill as required by the national constitution. Yet the proposed bill if passed will greatly affect the people of Kiambu economically and socially.
The proposals in the bill include exorbitant inoculation and high health occupation fees, excessive land survey fees and the introduction of multiple business permits as opposed to the single business licence that would encourage investment.
"Fees for market services have been raised above 600 per cent on average which is likely to discourage small scale farmers and traders in Kiambu County. This will impact negatively on the cost of living for the ordinary citizen and may result in (heightened) insecurity".
We hear of schemes to empower the youth, bring in investment and create wealth in such places as Murang'a, Embu, Kajiado and Embu among many others. But in Kiambu, the priority is the governor's house among other minor details. Why build mansions for people with houses in Karen, Nyali and all the 'right' residential areas in the country?
The only way to put Kiambu high on the economic map where it should compete with such giants as Nairobi and Mombasa is by creating the right and conducive investment environment that will contribute to the growth of the county's economy.