Tax debate a twist on the definition of fairness
The question of whether anyone by law should be exempt from paying tax is indeed vexatious and those lawmakers that legalised tax exemption for families of the former Presidents must have been out of their minds.
So President William Ruto’s firm position that the Kenyatta and the Moi families must pay those taxes is correct and upholds the principle of fairness.
This is so despite the fact that there is no love lost between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Ruto.
President Ruto is not going to let pass any opportunity he gets that can inflict some pain on his former boss, who he sees as an ungrateful user who, instead of rewarding him for steadfast support and loyalty, betrayed the devoted service and tried to deny Dr Ruto the opportunity to lead this country.
The opportunity to inflict tax pain is extremely opportune. The government is desperate for revenues to stem the haemorrhage caused by foreign debt repayments, profligacy in the civil service and corruption.
It is scrapping everywhere it can – even contemplating illegalities like snooping into people’s M-Pesa transactions to determine how much one is receiving and/or paying, and if tax has been accounted for in all instances.
So, if true that the Kenyatta family has asked for tax waivers of a colossal Sh1.4 billion from the new government, the opportunity was too good to pass over.
It is also only natural that this must have piqued the curiosity to find out how much the past government allowed as waivers to the Kenyatta family over the years, and to the family of the late President Moi.
The money allowed must run into many billions. It was not necessary to bring in politics but President Ruto is allowed. In this case, the President took a swipe at his predecessor thus: “Every citizen must pay tax. It doesn’t matter even if they sponsor demonstrations so that they don’t pay tax. I promise them they will pay tax. There is no more exemption.”
“This country is not the animal farm where some are more equal than others. We are going to have a society where every citizen carries [his or her] fair share of our burden to raise taxes.”
Again, it is only fair that this happens. But fairness calls for even-handed application of the measures that are being applied.
Tax waivers have been abused blatantly by those that have in the past had access to power. Politicians and businessmen have been known to seek tax waivers to import food even when waivers were not warranted.
Petrol, sugar and cereals imports have provided very attractive opportunities for millions of shillings to be made.
Fairness calls for a comprehensive review of most of the past abuses and remedial measures to be taken. A lot of the illicit cash that was made in this manner is still circulating.
But it is equally fair to demand that President Ruto extends his eagerness to redress these regressions, to a reflection on the contradiction in his own actions of abetting what could amount to a looting of public funds.
Cases that sought to establish the legitimacy of billions of shillings allegedly acquired dubiously have been dropped with astounding rapidity under his watch. Why is this?
Why were ongoing court processes cut short if those accused had every likelihood of winning the cases anyway?
Why the hurry to apply excuses that these were all politically instigated cases, with the implication that they did not need to go through due process?
It is incredible to want us to believe that in all the cases, the office of the public prosecutor was so utterly incompetent. If this is true, then DPP Noordin Haji surely does not deserve to be in that office.
But this is Kenya and high-stakes politics are being played out here. President Ruto is shameless about repaying loyalty and political debt even if the optics of his actions are less than kosher. If repaying will mean that it offends some, so be it. He is the guy calling the shots.
What is fair therefore is not necessarily what is right. Those that got and are still enjoying waivers exploited the power equation of the moment.
Those in power rewarded themselves and their friends because they could. They defined fairness and it favoured them.
In trying to right that, the President is simultaneously leveraging his position to define fairness by rewarding his cronies and losing the country billions that are going to individuals. There is nothing anyone can do about it until the next opportunity to redefine fairness.
Fairness, in this instance, is defined by changing political seasons. The victors redefine fairness in their own image, but this lasts only as the next battle for power and a new President.
Mr Mshindi, a former editor-in-chief of Nation Media Group, is now consulting. [email protected]; @TMshindi