‘Junk tax’ the wrong cure for right disease

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 00:00 |
Medical. Photo/Courtesy

Earlier this week, we carried a story on a proposal to impose a new tax on unhealthy junk and sugary foods.

The thinking behind this new pain that the Health ministry is keen to inflict on an already overtaxed citizen is to pool resources for Universal Health Coverage (UHC), one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda projects—and more critically, to discourage consumption of the target foods, which are blamed for lifestyle complications such obesity and associated diseases.

It cannot be gainsaid that the government needs to get off the business-as-usual mode to cure an ailing public healthcare system by not only resourcing the sector through adequate funding and staffing, but also putting in place requisite infrastructure.  

On funding, the government is yet to meet its pledge to achieve the Abuja Declaration, a commitment by African states to allocate at least 15 per cent of their gross domestic product to the health sector.

In Kenya, the allocation to health has stagnated at between six and seven per cent. This is a woefully low figure weighed against the mounting challenges in a supposedly growing economy.  

While devolution was expected to bring healthcare closer to the people, it has only succeeded in delivering grandiose concrete structures, but which lack doctors and essential drugs. They are a testimony of the ailing state of the sector. 

Unless there is a new way of doing things, the proposed ‘fat tax’ will not address the challenges it is supposed to cure.

For one, the government’s fixation with taxation—which is not accompanied by commensurate service provision—will not solve the existing challenges.

Those behind the proposal need to consult more before rolling out this levy which is likely to add to the endless list of burdensome taxes in a country that is not only going through a depressed economy and productivity, but also suffering ills such as plunder of public resources. 

Yet the sector is crying for resources for primary, curative and palliative healthcare services.

But the proposed levy is ill-timed and could have far-reaching economic consequences, including increasing cost of living.

The government must tame the unhealthy appetite for taxes and focus on prudent use of available resources.

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