By Golden Matonga
We can’t breathe—commodity prices are skyrocketing. Cooking oil, fuel, groceries, food and everything else is going north, eating into the little spending power we have.
We don’t produce fuel, we don’t have direct access to the sea and we can’t control global inflation. Our weak kwacha always gets battered on the exchange market. But that we have failed to diversify and grow our economy is not entirely caused by our geography.
When we voted last year, we were generally made to believe things would be better as our politicians promised the moon.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a moonless, visionless and helplessly corrupt administration, was as a result voted out of power. Its leader banished to a reluctant retirement on a beautiful lakeshore resort.
The poetic, cunning Tonse Alliance preachers and salespeople came to power. But our plight has just worsened. Covid-19 happened and the cunning Tonse Alliance salespeople have used it as an excuse for not delivering most of their promises, chief among them, creating one million jobs.
Now they keep on shifting goal posts—when the match is way underway. Just how many jobs have you created, anyway, journalists and others have attempted to ask, repeatedly in vain. The response has been steadfast: “Many, just not sure how many.”
No wonder the voter feels cheated. Shortchanged!
Add to that sad cocktail the skyrocketing commodity prices, even gains such as increased transparency and more serious approach to the fight against corruption seem not to count much for Tonse as the public mood is increasingly getting turned by the economic woes.
But is that all there is out there? Is that a genuine assessment of progress or change to just look at the belly? How about roads, schools, projects, just what other good has Tonse done and what other crimes has it committed? The jury is out there.
This week, though, news about newly-introduced value added tax (VAT) on the so-called non-banking services by the bank has opened up fresh wounds.
Those so-called non-banking services include charges or fees on services such as withdrawing funds from an ATM machine. Our banked savings, ostensibly, are already heavily taxed via our employers through the Pay As You Earn (Paye) mechanism and every purchase we make also includes taxes (be it levies, surtax or whatever name they pick) which make us some of the most taxed but underpaid folks in the world.
But, I bet, we could have been breathing more easily if after collecting all these punitive taxes, the State would prudently use the resources to fight poverty and develop this country. It’s simply not the case.
Instead, most of the funds soon vanish from the State coffers through well-orchestrated schemes such as bloated contract sums, fake compensation claims, extravagance by our leaders and outright theft, among others.
They end up enriching a few individuals such as business magnets who end up controlling levers of power by bribing politicians, senior government officials, judges, media and civil society, creating a country that is dysfunctional and at their mercy.
In South Africa, the Gupta scandal revealed just how deep such rot can be. Here at home, the Cashgate scandal was the biggest symptom of this cancer but if anyone ever thought that Cashgate is all that is there, they must be seriously mistaken. The plunder of public resources continues to happen ceaselessly just as their taxation never ends.
The day Malawians realise that their taxes end up enriching just a few families is the day chaos will erupt in this country.
On that day, nobody will control the narrative; no army will pacify the movement. No corrupt baron will buy his way out of jail. Justice will not be twisted.
So, the conversation about taxes is one that can turn out to be a game changer. History is full of kings who were dethroned by their subjects who felt the system was shortchanging them and in most cases, the subjects who rose against the king were taxpayers who were frustrated by the opulence of the royal house at their expense.
When that time comes, no force or power in the world, as Victor Hugo said, can stop the idea whose time has come.
The article first appeared in The Nation of Sunday, October 31, 2021
Source: Nation Newspaper