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For once, MPs schooled reporters how to ask tough questions

The dust has not yet settled on the bruising fight over Kenya’s controversial housing levy, which President William Ruto single-handedly rammed into law early this year.

And a scandal already hit the fan.

“MPs query investment of Sh20 billion housing levy funds in Treasury Bills,” said a May 24 heading in The Standard.

The story was about a parliamentary committee investigating how a huge chunk of money from the controversial housing fund had been taken to the stock market.

The housing levy was at the heart of the much-fought Finance Bill 2023, over which the Opposition, protesting over-taxation, threatened maandamano last July. The bill passed into law. But the courts put it on ice, stopping the government from collecting the levy.

Still, President Ruto held his ground, at one point infamously saying publicly that not even the courts would stand in his way on this matter.

At least one of the President’s own UDA legislators, Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba, went on TV and told Kenyans that the housing levy was a scam. Wamuchomba in a KTN interview last January said this was just another tax. And that the government meant to collect it but not to account for it.

And now, bam, that headline. The Treasury has apparently raided the fund, skimming off a fat Sh20 billion of it to buy bonds.

Sh20 billion, did you say? How much has been collected, anyway? Well, now MPs have woken up scribes to dig further, shown them where to look, what questions to ask.

Scribes could borrow a leaf from the MPs. These are things the public needs to know. Here, more questions:

  • Is it lawful for the government to unilaterally trade with taxpayer funds like the housing levy?
  • Was due process followed?
  • Was the intent to add value to this fund? Or was someone scheming a quiet rip-off?
  • Most importantly, should trading with this be profitable, where will the profits go? Will the profits grow the fund? Or will they go into some unauthorized, discretionary government spending or, worse, to someone’s pocket?

Dear reporters, your work is cut out for you. Go ask these questions. Follow the breadcrumbs, wherever they may lead you.

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