Friday, June 27, 2008

Tax: MPs must try better excuses


Publication Date: 6/24/2008

KENYANS ARE ONCE AGAIN having to contend with avarice, double-speak and outright insults from those they have elected to be their representatives.

The question of whether or not our MPs should pay taxes on their generous allowances is not new in our national discourse. Neither are the justifications they use to deny the Exchequer what rightfully belongs there.

Outside of Parliament, when they are busily campaigning for the title “Honourable”, they argue that MPs earn way too much and their pay should be reduced and subjected to tax.

Once they get in, they metamorphose into avaricious creatures that would do anything to line their own pockets.

To be fair, some MPs have spoken out in favour of paying taxes on their allowances. Most, however, are adamant that the move is unacceptable to them and they are preparing to shoot it down.

Words used to describe the measure include “populist politics… nonsense… punishment” among others. It is difficult to gauge the amount of time our MPs have spent thinking about this matter, but their output suggests that theirs’ are knee-jerk reactions to the proposal.

The words they use to describe the proposal are indeed instructive. It is ‘‘nonsense’’, a measure meant to punish the targeted taxpayer and reduce his or her standing in society.

The interesting thing is that some of these fellows sit on important parliamentary committees that vet public expenditure and pass levies to be charged on the common citizenry.

Even as they complain about paying tax, they have already presented proposals to buy new cars for themselves (including a convoy for Mr Speaker) among other perks they already enjoy. Some have even threatened to increase their allowances if the tax measure passes.

One reason they are using to reject the tax on allowances is that they spend most of their pay on their constituents. This is a very lame excuse, especially in view of the Constituency Development Fund (run by MPs!) and other funds meant to take over the functions of harambee and out-of-pocket expenditure for MPs.

THAT THEY SPEND THEIR MONEY on their voters is therefore a personal decision, and nobody forces them to do so. Many Kenyans out of Parliament are doing exactly the same thing, yet they pay taxes on their income.

We are educating members of our extended families, feeding those too poor to afford a meal, forking out money for neighbourhood security, paying bills for our friends and neighbours and even organising weddings and funerals for these MPs’ constituents, yet we also faithfully pay our taxes and fill out our annual tax returns to avoid paying huge penalties. What makes MPs’ expenses more important than those of the common citizen?

Another reason they are giving is that they travel frequently to their constituencies and spend a lot of money on their fuel-guzzlers, and therefore they need tax breaks to deal with this. Others claim they work for 24 hours and have no weekends, and therefore their tax-free allowances are fair compensation.

These are all ludicrous arguments that would not stand close examination. Common citizens also toil endlessly in order to afford a single meal in a day, and as for the cost of fuel and travel, all Kenyans have been hard hit.

It is ridiculous in the extreme that Kenyans earning less than a quarter of what our MPs earn end up paying the same amount of tax as the MPs! It is time those MPs who care about the future of this country stood up to be counted.

Let them pay tax so that they can feel the pain the common citizen feels when the Kenya Revenue Authority milks them dry. This may inspire them to find ways of reducing taxes and using the money collected more efficiently.

But that is a very long shot indeed!

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kenyan politicians not really ready for true democracy


Publication Date: 6/12/2008 Daily Nation Page 11

IN A RARE MOMENT OF CANDOUR, a senior figure in the Grand Coalition revealed the true motivation for the Kenyan politician.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Kilgoris, Assistant minister, Joseph Nkaissery was quoted as saying that parties are of no importance in Kenyan politics, and that he held the interests of his tribe above those of his party.

He was justifying his refusal to campaign for a candidate from his political party and preference for a candidate from an opposing party.

His only consideration was the ethnicity of his preferred candidate, and not the policies he espoused or his commitment to the welfare of his constituents.

The scenario above represents the mind of the average politician, and has been replicated countless times in relatively cosmopolitan constituencies.

People elected on various party platforms turn around and threaten to leave their respective parties unless the interests of their ‘‘community’’ are taken into account.

The meaning of ‘‘community’’ in this context is often narrowed down to what the so-called leader feels is in his or her personal interest.

STATEMENTS LIKE ‘‘KENYANS WILL not accept ABC’’ or ‘‘Kenyans are demanding XYZ’’ are common during thunderous rallies and news conferences, while in reality the Kenyans being referred to would not fill a room in one of the mansions occupied by our leaders.

On the authority of this politician, we now know the truth about all those shouting themselves hoarse about ‘‘we in ODM’’ or ‘‘we in PNU’; they have no interest in the welfare of Kenyans, and are just looking out for their own interests.

Many young people have been involved as foot soldiers in political campaigns on behalf of these politicians, and many have paid the ultimate price – their lives.

Hundreds of them are languishing in police cells facing various charges mostly involving violent acts on behalf of these two-faced politicians.

These young people engaged in these acts probably believing that they were serving a just cause, that they were righteous warriors (pardon the metaphor) in the interests of their community, political party or country.

What a lie!

When the politicians sat together across the mediation table, they agreed to prosecute all perpetrators of violence, which was described as bordering on war crimes and crimes against humanity.

They then went ahead and shared posts in Government and started planning ‘‘home-coming’’ parties, forgetting that the soldiers for freedom and defenders of the community were wallowing in poverty all over the country.

The tragicomic show on ‘‘amnesty’ is just another false front being opened by politicians to hoodwink their followers that they are fighting for their rights.

The truth is that politicians on both sides are saying the same thing but emphasising different aspects of the argument.

One side is amplifying the need for certain perpetrators of violence to be punished and turning a blind eye to others, while the other side is emphasising the need to punish all purported wrong-doers instead of doing it selectively.

Both sides seem agreed on the need to deal expeditiously with all those in custody – releasing those whose rights have already been violated through inordinately long incarceration, releasing petty offenders arrested for blocking traffic and shouting slogans, and taking those who committed heinous crimes through the due process of the law.

What is the future of our fledgling democracy then?

It is clear that as long as we continue along the path of deceit and double-speak, we shall continue suffering pain and bloodshed as experienced at the beginning of this year.

WE ARE NOT LIVING IN A DEMOCRacy, and we should stop deluding ourselves that we are. What we have is a hodgepodge of nation-states practically at war with each other, and at every election, we put up our best warlords to vie against the best from other groups.

Until we start thinking about ourselves as Kenyans first and use values and principles in making political decisions, we shall continue falling prey to duplicitous politicians who pretend to be one thing when campaigning and become another in other settings.

Kenyans will only demonstrate their commitment to democracy when they transcend the comfort zone of their tribes and define themselves by other values. Until then, one can only conclude that we are not yet ready for democracy.

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.