Monday, September 17, 2007

Another World IS Possible!

Ahmed Hassan Odhowa

"Another world is possible." This must have been the most written phrase in the World Social Forum (WSF2007). One of the participants in the forum asked a group of young guys who were having a drink in a restaurant in Kasarani (the venue of the forum) what the phrase meant. The answers started flowing: a world without corruption, wars, poverty, HIV/AIDS, diseases, refugees, inequality, crime, insecurity, discrimination, etc – the answers were never-ending.

Having fully participated in the launch of Tax Justice Network for Africa, I listened to every answer keenly, but none of the respondents mentioned anything to do with taxation.

Fortunately my newfound colleagues at the Forum were busy arranging for the launch of the Youth Tax Justice Network, and I sighed with relief because the birth of the Youth Tax Justice Network will for sure encourage young people, both students and out-of-class youths, to engage in issues of justice in taxation. This engagement will open up the minds of the youth all over the world to take their leaders to task on poor tax policies, tax evasion, corruption and other related financial malpractices. I saw the reawakening of youth on issues that they never care to discuss.

The Youth Tax Justice Network could not come at a better time than today. As corruption eats up our societies and economies ail because of tax evasion, governments cannot deliver the services to its citizens because the tax collected from the poor fellow is not reaching the treasury. Meanwhile, multinationals exploit tax loopholes to reduce their tax obligation to the state. In this situation, the Youth Tax Justice Network can be the only saviour of future generations.

For me as an individual it has been an opening of a chapter that I never cared to develop interest in. After the Forum I decided to do some homework on the issues. I decided to talk to a few businessmen on their tax obligation to the state. Mr. Patel* who owns a textile shop in downtown Nairobi, showed me two receipt books which he keeps for his daily sales. The major sales in a day are entered into a fake receipt book that is never shown to the tax officers, but the minor sales are entered into the genuine receipt book which is given to the tax officers at the taxation period when they come calling.

I asked him why he has to do that. His answer was quick and to the point. “Why should I pay tax to enrich another person?” he asked, “while I get nothing in return for my hard work?” he continued. Then he willingly advised me to learn the trick of avoiding tax if I ever wanted to be a successful businessman in Nairobi.

Curious about what Mr. Patel had told me, I decided to visit the offices of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) located a kilometer away from Mr. Patel’s shop. I went straight to the domestic taxation department on the 21st Floor of the Kenya’s tallest building.

I sat on an empty seat at the pavement and pretended to be confused and needing help. After a short while a neatly dressed gentleman approached me, but before I could say anything, a lady wielding a VAT book interrupted him. The gentleman called the lady to his office and stamped the book before she parted with something small. He sheepishly told me to have a word with her. So off I went with her. The story she told me reminded me what Mr. Patel had told me some hours before.

With such tricks of tax avoidance and corruption in the taxation system, it is extremely hard for any justice in taxation to be found unless we all join hands and build a vibrant network. The scale and magnitude of such corruption is higher in the more established corporations and multinationals.

While we must advocate for tax remittance we must equally lobby for the enactment of legislation to seal the loopholes which allow for the misuse of taxes paid by the honest citizens of our nations. We should, as the network, be able to disseminate information about tax justice.

Let us promise to inform and recruit more members to the network. Before this year ends I promise to influence at least 50 youths in Kenya to register as members. Hold me on this one?

Let’s build YTJN!!!!!

Note: These are true incidents and for privacy Mr. Patel is not the real name of the businessman I talked to.

Ahmed Hassan Odhowa will graduate in December 2007 from Kenyatta University with a BA in Environmental & Community Development. He currently works with the Kenya Red Cross Society as a Field Food Monitor.

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