The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary General (SG) Collins Oyuu, on Thursday, June 1, disclosed how President William Ruto should have approached the formulation and public awareness of the Housing Fund project to consolidate support.
While addressing the press, Oyuu explained that with proper public participation, the President would get more people on board with the idea of contributing 3 per cent of their salary.
The government has been releasing information without a concrete plan, with Ruto addressing the fund in nearly all his public appearances. Conversely, Cabinet Secretaries and their principal secretaries have also publicised the controversial project, with Housing PS, Charles Hinga, among the most vocal about the fund.
With the project still a proposal, various sectors shared their input, forcing the government to shift stances. From a tax to a levy, from mandatory to voluntary contributions, savings to refund if one does not want a house after seven years, from a fixed 3 per cent to 3 per cent capped at Ksh2,500 as a maximum contribution.
KNUT's Oyoo joined in the debate demanding more clarification.
"On the issue of the housing levy, what we demanded was the idea of sitting us down and letting us know exactly what is the levy. It was all about public participation," Oyuu stated.
"Let us know what the levy is all about, how we can confront it, and how we can convey it to our members. We must be told properly what is happening," he added.
He argued that it was unrealistic for the President to demand a salary deduction from boda boda riders and mama mbogas who do not have a payslip.
"Telling hawkers and boda boda riders to reject the Finance Bill without giving them more information is pointless," he remarked.
Oyuu singled out situations when public participation changed the members' minds on several projects.
However, on May 12, the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) rejected the fund, arguing that its members already own houses.
The KUPPET Embu branch argued that its members reared goats, cows, pigs, and other animals and are not convinced to invest in the high-rise apartments proposed by Ruto.
"We do not want to live in those highrises, they will disadvantage teachers," one member stated.
"A decent, affordable house may cost about Ksh1.2 million. If you do the math, you get that a teacher will pay for the house for many years," another complained.
While the Central Organisation Trade Union (COTU), led by labour leader Francis Atwoli, supported the Housing Fund, the Media Owners Association rejected it, stating that the proposed contribution would significantly dent employees' take-home salaries.
"As employers, the media companies in this country are concerned with this proposal. Employees are already heavily burdened with an average tax rate of 30 per cent, and contributions to National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF)," Media Owners Association chairperson Agnes Kalekye stated on Tuesday, May 30.
President Ruto, nonetheless, expects the project to provide houses for low- and middle-income Kenyans.
"This is a program that we cannot fail to do because it provided jobs for the millions of young people leaving our learning institutions," Ruto explained on May 11.