We the people, not just media, should query leaders on taxes
Saturday February 04 2023
Former Comptroller and Auditor-General Prof Mussa Assad had some choice words for Tanzanian media recently in remarks about taxes, fees, levies, et cetera. Roughly translated, he said that if journalists took their jobs seriously they would put a lot of effort into querying elected politicians about their taxes instead of issuing a barrage of weak content.
Interesting. I wonder if he knows that Tanzania Revenue Authority’s tweet the other day about their new TikTok account. While he is out there perseverating about how to distribute the tax burden more justly, TRA has signed on to a popular social media platform that has some espionage and security issues.
Prof Assad is right, we should be asking about the taxes paid by our elected officials. To that I would add the entire public sector. I read a tweet from a Kenyan who alleged that big political families in Kenya are not paying taxes, and why don’t they get the kind of scrutiny that the Kenya Revenue Authority is trying to subject other Kenyans to. The KRA’s move to inhabit Kenyans’ phones and garnish taxes off their accounts and mobile money accounts is the stuff of technological dystopia nightmares.
Vote in their own favour
We’re not there yet, but we share the Who Pays Taxes question with our neighbours. I think Prof Assad is aware, as we all are, that legislators vote in their own favour all the time and they will not legislate to increase their tax burden and this is Tanzania. Journalists spend plenty of time with politicians, they tend to know what interviews can yield good information. Asking a secondary school student about their views on progressive taxation is interesting, asking a seasoned politician that question, especially if they know what you are up to, will yield a lot of hot air.
Investigating, documenting and then publicising their income streams and actual tax records, though? Bruh. Is he offering protection? When journalists go off to ask difficult questions of the powerful, they rarely come back. That is a strong disincentive for journalists.
This is Tanzania. We have an economic philosophy of hunger and big bellies. When a person succeeds enough to get a good position in government, the pressure to bend the rules will come from sponsors, sponsees, friends and family, who stand to benefit from patronage. Patronage is a very expensive political system for the patron, requiring access to vast amounts of money. This encourages behaviour that is corrupt, and it incentivises MPs to award themselves fat salaries and very low taxes, which they may avoid with no consequences.
What Prof Assad should really be asking is why the collective doesn’t rise up and ask their MPs about their tax records and tax policies, especially during election years. Why place the burden of inquiry on the media when everyone can be recruited?
We, the people, are the majority, and we have certainly been vocal as consumers about questioning and grappling with and even rejecting fees, levies and taxes before. And yet time and time again we vote for the very same Party and people who are apparently living off the sweat of our brows. A far more interesting story, that, and worthy of the time and effort.
Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]