Tax evasion and other sins to Caesar and Creator
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Tony Zakaria
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TODAY I borrow from the gospel of Mathew which decribes how learned Jews conspired to trap prophet Issa bin Maryam, peace be upon him, to say something that would make him an enemy of Roman colonial masters.

Following a sugar-coated preamble, they asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay census tax to Caesar? That was an unlawful question, given that it is the rulers who made the lax law. Clearly paying taxes was not a popular sport even then.

And the teacher as they called him gave them a legal answer. As long as the picture on the money is of the Roman king, you must pay unto Caesar what belongs to the king, and to God what belongs to God.

Now I know why people in neighbouring Kenya wanted their central bank to print money with pictures of wild animals. Maybe they evade due taxes to government, and they could claim it disappeared to the rightful owners in the wilderness.

In Tanzania, most coins and notes bear the mugshots of former presidents Nyerere, Karume and Mwinyi. Why have Tanzanians resisted to pay taxes for so long? Mwalimu Nyerere had to chastise the government of his successor for not collecting taxes worth billions.

Then government used to collect just 25bn/- per month. At the same time we went to friendly donor governments begging bowl in hand for aid to support basic services. Now JPM government collects 1.2trn/- monthly.

Taxes may be as unavoidable as death but people of all nationalities and income levels are averse to paying, Tanzanians included. You hear of rich individuals and companies investing in tax havens such as the Cayman islands, Bahamas, Switzerland and Malta.

Tax havens offer low taxes on investments, and some charge zero tax on revenue earned abroad. Using legal loopholes in various national legislations, European and American companies (let us called them global because they operate in many countries) end up reducing their tax rates from 35% down to 15% or even lower.

The most valuable company in the world used subsidiaries in the Netherlands, Ireland and Bermuda to reduce its tax burden, and paid just 0.005% tax on its European profits in 2014.

The fight that president John has been waging on Tanzanian traders and companies to give unto Caesar what they legally owe is noble one but an uphill task of gigantic proportions.

Especially that so many resident companies and individuals had made the Tanzanian government their unofficial tax haven. And tax evaders and their helpers from within Caesar’s praetorium will not give up a lifestyle of purple robes and banquet dining without a fight.

I can bet that tax collectors who used to go home every day with loads of cash are still asking creditors to alter their debts from 100 shekels - read millions of shillings - to 50. I can also bet that government only gets 10 shekels and the 40 shekels are lining up connected pockets.

Otherwise revenue collection would have doubled by now. The problem is not with traders and other taxpayers but with the Mathews and Zacchaeus among us, some of whom may not be directing all their collections into the treasury.

They have not leaned to become farmers and it is unlikely they will learn to beg, having been used to steady untaxed income. It is within his right for president JPM to demand that those who engage in any economic activity pay taxes in accordance with laws and norms.

We do not expect the Zacchaeus among them to repay fourfold what they have swindled but 50% of their wealth should be taken to help improve social services for ordinary Tanzanians. The Pharisees among us will question everything the government and its leaders are trying to do but are they justified?

Let us talk about JPM’s style of leadership that has been branded by some as dictatorial. Let us all agree that Tanzania had reached a stage where anything and everything was okay.

I think some of us believed nothing would change anytime soon. To change a corrupt system in which those with money or position of power can do whatever they want, and an unproductive public workforce that failed dismally to deliver basic services needed a tough, no-nonsense leader. Talking about corruption in public fora, making new rules or issuing new circulars did not work since the time of Mwalimu Nyerere.

Tanzania needed an enforcer, from the very top. Modern day Singapore made tremendous progress because of Lee Kuan Yew and the same can be said of South Korea and General Pak.

They moved their countries from third world to developed world status. Both of these leaders were labelled dictators by the world. Even Britain made significant economic progress during the time of Margret Thatcher, the Iron Lady.

Perhaps those complaining publicly or in chatrooms are doing so not because of the JPM style or substance but the effect it has on their financial and business dealings. How did we get here? By going on the same way we have been doing for the last four decades.

And the same people in decision making positions. It cannot be business as usual. So JPM changed the ministers, provincial and district commissioners, and even some damaging directors who are alive but known as DEDs.

Why should he not appoint people he trusts? It is his prerogative, and he can bring in as many professors as he is comfy with. How do developed democracies do it? When a new president is elected, all political appointees resign their posts to give the new CEO of the land to appoint his own team. From Clinton to Bush and Bush to Obama, that is what happened in America.

Trump has not finished appointing yet, for many positions are still vacant. If we want to build a productive, disciplined and accountable Tanzania we must be willing to make sacrifices. And if we can pay taxes to Caesar, let us also pay tithe for our worship houses.

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