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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say something about this post!