The corruption of taxes and the poor – Alex Ndungu Njeru


A while back, I watched a rather enthralling documentary series on Al Jazeera English under the title ‘Working Man’s death.‘ It chronicled the oddest of the odd jobs, the most menial jobs and certainly the most dehumanizing job that the poor all over the do in order to get their daily bread. The series in its own words looked ‘at the state of physical work in the modern world, work that is dreary, demanding and at times dangerous.’

The series documented the lives; of miners in the Ukraine who went underground in depleted coal mines to get out whatever little a bucket load of coal they would get, the lives of the blood and frenetic activities of the meat market in Port Harcourt Nigeria, the ship wrecking yard of Ghandani yard in Pakistan.

I have seen many a people survive through life doing the most arduos and physical tasks. I have seen men who survive as; mole catchers, others as water well diggers; digging vertical shafts as deep as 100 feet into the ground sometimes in poor oxygen. I have seen men quarry large borders of rock into smaller stone building rocks. In town I have seen men, mostly young men carry 150 kilogrammes of potato sack on their backs, and in India I am told that there are men and women from the Dalit caste that scavenge, clean out primitive toilets by hand, collect the faecal matter in bamboo baskets and buckets and take it away in handcarts to dump.

Men and women who live by the sweat of their brow and the break of their back all have one thing in common, all want to sit down and enjoy a; dollar’s, a naira’s or a shillings worth of their daily work. I realize that most of these people earn meagre of salaries. What saddens my soul and kills it sometimes is that some of them are not able to enjoy a penny’s worth of their daily work.

Taxes enfeeble, they enfeeble the poor the more. In the part of the world where I come from it is not the taxes that are the problem but what those taxes go to do. The most synonymous fallacy the world over is that the poor do not pay taxes, but that is if you reduce taxation to the mere act of paying; income tax or personal tax.

Look at it carefully; the poor souls pay tax at the shop when they buy a loaf of bread, a bar of soap, a saree, or a cigarette to puff away their problems. The poor pay taxes when they travel, in Kenya there is a rail development levy that anyone who uses motorized transport pays to the government, the government has reduced the number of goods exempt from Value Added Tax (VAT), pushing the cost of living beyond the roof and certainly beyond the poor’s reach. This means that for all their hard work some of them are robbed of the ability to spend a penny’s worth of their labour for the monies that disappear in taxes.

The main object of my exasperation is not taxes, well not at the, moment and save for the fact that they are overly exorbitant. We know taxes enfeeble, don’t we? My exasperation stems from how taxes are spent, how they disappear from public coffers. The poor pay for sleaze and opulence in governments, they pay for the tinted gas guzzler that splashes them with mud and water on their way to work, they pay for the education of the bureaucrats to study abroad.

Mwangi Kimenyi says that, ‘For the poor, corruption is an insidious institution that strips poor people of their human dignity and deprives them of access to public goods and services that could enhance their ability to dig themselves out of poverty.’ In other words corruption perpetuates poverty, it normalizes poverty.

The African Union has estimated that during the 1990s corruption was costing African economies about $148 billion per year, or about 25 percent of Africa’s total output. The World Bank estimates that, “Companies lose between 7 and 8 per cent of their revenues to corruption, which translates to millions of jobs lost every year.

The biggest argument for taxation is that they allow for redistributive mechanisms from the poor to the rich, in this region of the world they tend to do quite the opposite. They provide for the bureaucrats to wallow in abhorrent opulence on the back of the back breaking work of the diligent manual labourer. We must clamour for better resource use in Africa, we have no option but to do so because it is immoral for the poor to lose their hard earned pennies for the enjoyment of others.

How the poor feed the rich from their paltry pay