Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Labouring Kenyans must take blame for their misery

Sunday Nation 01 May 2011

Thousands of Kenyan workers will on Sunday congregate at Uhuru Park to mark Labour Day. They will listen to speeches by labour leaders and maybe a few government officials.

Most will listen to the speeches for entertainment value only, while a few will be listening keenly for any policy shift in government and the labour movement that would benefit them directly.

Many are hoping for wage increments and tax breaks to enable them make ends meet, and are thus full of hope that this will happen on this day dedicated to their hard labour that keeps our nation afloat.

Unfortunately, anyone hoping that any act done today will significantly change their life is living in dreamland.

No matter what the government announces or does not announce, there will be no significant shift in the well-being of the ordinary Kenyan.

This message needs to sink into the minds of every Kenyan toiling for a thankless employer who pays them peanuts at the end of the day, week, or month. Nothing is going to change!

My message today is intentionally cynical, but it is guided by past events and the behaviour of the average Kenyan. Let me clarify. Over the past few years, the cost of living has been rising exponentially, and the rise in wages has been unable to catch up with it.

Domestic budgets

Many people have had to make changes in their domestic budgets, foregoing most of the things they used to consider essential, and going after the very basic of needs.

In this same period, salaries for politicians holding public office and other high-ranking public servants have sky-rocketed, with many of them earning upwards of a million shillings every month.

Additionally, these “leaders” have chosen not to pay taxes on their earnings despite clear constitutional injunctions against tax evasion.

Kenya Revenue Authority continues to dither and prevaricate on this matter, utterly unable to stand up to the bully politician. After all, the commissioners’ jobs depend on the collective goodwill of politicians for whom paying tax is anathema.

As the prices of basic commodities sky-rocket, the self-same politicians have established cartels to fleece the exchequer through dubious import deals.

An attempt to control the price of oil products has been captured by the same self-interested goons, and indeed many Kenyans would now be happy with the pre-regulation regime!

It is not as if these things are happening in the dark, and that most Kenyans are unaware of them.

Quite to the contrary, anyone interested in the matter knows that our parliamentarians and Cabinet ministers do not pay tax on their pay, and many are involved in grand schemes to defraud the citizens of their tax shillings.

Logically, therefore, the next course of action for the suffering Kenyan should be very clear.

At the very minimum, we must require that the Cabinet is trimmed to a more sensible size.

Second, we must insist that everyone who earns any money in this country pays tax on their income, regardless of status.

Finally, all politicians implicated in corrupt deals must relinquish their positions as required by the law, and be prosecuted accordingly.

Short of making these demands, Kenyans must continue taking the blame for remaining poor and helpless at the hands of ruthless politicians.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

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