Rich or not, every Kenyan citizen must pay tax
Should everybody pay taxes? It is a no brainer. Everybody should pay taxes. In fact, the higher the public responsibility, the more one should be faithful in paying taxes. Former US President Donald Trump has been undergoing great scrutiny over whether companies associated with him, and his family, have been paying their fair share of taxes.
When Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister, was coming to the office, one of the areas of scrutiny was whether he and his family had been paying their fair share of taxes over their extensive financial portfolio.
There is a range of reasons that public servants ought to pay taxes. They preside over the decisions about how tax money is spent in the country, and it is only fair that they should be putting in the till so that they, too, understand the pinch the public is going through.
It is scandalous if some public servants, either legally or otherwise, find ways around not paying their fair share of taxes. In the first place, public servants are already being paid from public coffers and thus should be grateful for the privilege. The least they can do for that privilege is to pay their taxes.
Further, like every other citizen, they enjoy public services. In the case of countries of the South, public servants appear to have more extraordinary claims on public services, whether legitimately or otherwise, and therefore should contribute to this privilege. Whether or not public servants pay taxes should, therefore, not even be an issue to be debated. Yet that is what we have been up to over the last week. For the past six decades, some public figures have been treated with privileges that should offend the senses of average citizens. But what is even more offending is how this debate has been conducted.
The relationship between the current leadership and the previous one is on ice. That was to be expected given the last years of the previous administration. However, wisdom should suggest that one of the qualities of leadership is magnanimity. Kenya’s first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, came to power and promised forgiveness to those whose behaviour during the colonial years may have crossed the line.
Smooth transition that Kenya made from colonialism to a republic is attributed, to a great extent, to this spirit of forgiveness. This could have contributed to the country’s great strides in economic development and co-existence among communities.
A similar virtue has played out in the previous transitions that Kenya has had. Whether it was from President Jomo Kenyatta to President Daniel arap Moi, President Moi to President Mwai Kibaki and so on; the mantra seems to have been to forget the past and move on.
The countries that have not had this virtue have not had it well. That an elder statesman has been subjected to opprobrium by a younger regime runs counter to the African spirit and culture, and by extension, to principles of managing transitions. That people should be held to account is a given. But how they are held to account is the stuff of wisdom. A country is by nature very delicate and has many issues to be balanced. One of them is perception. The perception created could have a bearing on future transitions. If leaders fear being hounded out of office, they may be very reluctant to make way, thus compounding a nation’s challenges. This has plagued the continent in the past and could explain why Africa has some of the longest serving leaders.
Every leader needs to do the right thing. Kenya has prided itself in excelling in this area, shining as an example across the continent as a maturing democracy, managing transition every decade. Exuberance should not lead the country to soil this reputation. But more importantly, exuberance should not lead to stirring relations that could lead to rancour and national instability.
— The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University