Kenya president William Ruto vows tax overhaul to lower inequality

Kenya’s newly elected President William Ruto on Thursday vowed to overhaul the country’s income tax regime and introduce reforms asking high-earners to pay more in a bid to reduce inequality.

The 55-year-old leader, who cast himself as the champion of the poor in the August 9 poll, said he intended to establish a progressive income tax regime, in his first speech to parliament since winning the presidency.

“We are overtaxing trade and undertaxing wealth,” the rags-to-riches businessman told parliamentarians.

“I am committed and determined to ensure that our tax system is responsive to the needs of the economy,” he said.

“The economic principles of equitable taxation require that the tax burden reflects ability to pay.”

Ruto also promised to rein in borrowing to kickstart Kenya’s economy, which is creaking under the weight of a $70-billion debt mountain.

East Africa’s most dynamic economy is facing deep hardship with about a third of the country’s population of around 50 million living in poverty.

Prices for basic goods skyrocketed in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and unemployment remains a major problem, particularly among the young.

Inflation soared to a 65-month high of 8.5 percent in August, while the Kenyan shilling has hit record lows at around 121 shillings to the US dollar.

Ruto, who was deputy to former president Uhuru Kenyatta, had a bitter falling-out with his boss while in office, lambasting his policies for increasing debt.

Ruto last month slashed the food and fuel subsidies introduced by Kenyatta.

British charity Oxfam said in a report earlier this year that the two richest Kenyans own more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of the population.

NOW READ: Ruto pledges to work for all Kenyans after swearing-in