Article: Governance of my Tax!

TAX remission is age old, but many of us seldom interact to discuss it. Many more hardly ever interrogate where the TAX that we pay ends up on purchase simplistic items such as a match box, a candle or a bar of soap but on the flip side, Tax Justice is a fairly new concept that is slowly taking root in Africa following cross country calls by citizens, CSOs and development partners for Governments to account for the taxes that are collected and to provide quality services on time. To guarantee ownership, commitment and sustainability, the concept of Tax Justice Campaign frontloads the “common citizen” in all its engagements. In-depth understanding by practitioners and successful application by actual tax payers is strongly hinged on the three pillars of Human Rights Based Approach – empowerment, solidarity and campaigns. While there are various ways of collecting taxes, most African states generate most of their local revenue from the realms of the informal rather than the formal sector.

Various studies have shown that poor governance is one of the key causes of poverty. Global citizens suffer when governments do not provide requisite services for dignified livelihood. Serious problems with governance still exist in much of Africa – but the overall situation is steadily improving. Working with governments to improve the way public resources are used is an important part of any youth focused programming and intervention strategies. While most businesses in Africa are in small units and agriculture is more often than not practiced on substance basis, Local government incentives aimed at increasing the local revenue base to supplement national allocations is the missing component. For instance, agriculture and enterprising as sectors are barely resourced or effectively planned for. This means that there is no informative basis and conducive environment for the citizenry to seriously and sustainably engage either practice on broad scales. In effect, poverty at house-hold levels are sustained, services are mediocre and a sense of responsibility and ownership by duty bearers and citizens alike continually get eroded.

Distinctively, tax issues and related injustices are propagated by unaccounted for local revenue, uninformed and unequal allocation and accountability by the citizenry and the duty bearers at Local Government. Guided by the urgent need to augment mass awareness and participation on Participatory Democracy and Governance to promise and achieve focus on improving governance in social service delivery, promoting civic participation and improving state and non-state accountability. It is key to contextualise local/grassroot development agendas and feed them into the National Tax Justice Campaigns and while demand informs supply; on the one part, citizen roles and responsibilities on governance towards improving accountability and effectiveness by duty bearers cannot be gainsaid. On the flipside, local leadership – politicians and technical teams’ feedback on revenue collection and expenditure is imperative.

I have learnt that when the citizens are accorded decision making spaces and assigned roles in initiating, harnessing and nurturing their own programs, they more often than not tend to participate adequately and as such develop their leadership skills incrementally. However, it is not enough to avail resources both financial and human, however; it is also prudent to involve the citizens in designing plans as well as implementation of activities. Over and above else, to realize quality in this pillar, it is prudent for the citizens to be trained on practical citizen skills as debates and public speaking, advocacy, budgeting and Monitoring touching on tax matters. This is because, discussion issues at local or national level are not contextualized enough for the green grocer; charcoal dealer neither is it for the learned teacher and the local business man however much they are heavily and timely taxed!

 

The Writer, Ger Odock is a youth & women programming practitioner and enthusiast with over 6 years’ multicultural and cross country experience acquired while working in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe and focused on monitoring, documentation, social accountability, elections, leadership, human rights based approaches and participatory governance processes. Ger is also the African Youth Corner (AYC) Country Representative in Kenya.

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