8 March 2010

Nobody is a nobody


Nobody is a nobody

Innocent Maphal, Times of Swaziland, Mbabane, 7 March 2010

Like everybody else, I am appalled that government would stoop so low (literally) in its belatedly frantic endeavour to raise more money.

They are not exactly being transparent where management of public funds is concerned, they have now decided to take away three per cent from every worker’s monthly wage.

This was said by Finance Minister Majozi Sithole, which will begin on July 1, 2010.
It affects mostly the section of society that works hard but is never paid much.

This is the section that experiences the aura of comfortable air-conditioned offices and swivel chairs only by looking at glossy magazine pictures.

It is the sector that drives the economy, labouring to meet production deadlines in the manufacturing, retail, construction, catering and other industries.

It is the forgotten segment of our labour force.

Correction: it had been virtually forgotten until now. 

Minister Sithole, speaking on behalf of the entire government, says taking three per cent from the monthly wage of a worker on the lowest rung of the economy ladder is government’s way of ‘welcoming’ the lowly-paid into the world of tax-paying.

Incidentally, government had consulted widely on how to manage the situation when it became apparent that we would be getting less money from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

The advice was NOT to increase taxes.

The minister admits this himself.

“Our consultations with stakeholders on our Medium Term Budget Policy Statement gave us a clear indication that we should resist the temptation to increase taxes to finance the budget deficit as this would impact negatively on our economy. It is for this reason that I am not proposing to increase income taxes this year,” he says in the 2010/11 Budget Speech he presented a week ago.

“However, in order to allow those on the lower end of the tax-paying population to also contribute to the country’s social programme, we are introducing a three per cent minimum tax per annum effective July 1, 2010.”

Now, what does this mean, in layman terms?

It means Elizabeth Tsela, the 55-year-old mother and grandmother who has been working for one of the hotels in the kingdom for 22 years but still earns E1 500 per month without being taxed, will now contribute E45 towards government’s ‘social programme.’

This will leave her with E1 455 before other deductions like graded tax and Swaziland National Provident Fund (SNPF) are deducted. Being the sole breadwinner, she will have to make do with this amount for all her family’s groceries and other necessities.

It means Sipho Mabuza who has worked as a driver for a bakery business and has not been taxed because he earns E2 000 per month, will now hand over E60 to government.

This will leave him with E1 940 before other deductions.

I am not even going to talk about Thoko, the textile firm worker employed only a year ago.

The Swaziland Integrated Labour Force Survey for 2007/08 says Thoko and thousands of her colleagues are still paid a meagre E900 per month. This is an official government document.

We quote it in one of our stories on the same issue in the news pages.

The report says about 98 000 women are currently employed. 

At least half of them (about 49 000) earn only E900 per month. The government of the kingdom of Swaziland wants a share of this amount.

If it has its way, come July, Thoko and the rest of her counterparts will have E27 deducted as tax.
This is an amount that could buy her a two-litre bottle of cooking oil, which would last her an entire month.

Alternatively, it could be money she used as bus fare for at least three days, if she spends E8 to and from work each day. 

Minister Majozi says compared to the previous year, income taxes grew by eight per cent, driven largely by an 11 per cent growth in individual taxes and a five per cent growth in company taxes.

So, naturally, government is living off the proverbial taxpayer?

Nothing wrong there. It happens everywhere around the world. Citizens have to pay taxes.

However, the people who will be affected, commonly referred to by trade union leaders as ‘the masses,’ have previously been excluded from taxation because…exactly, they already earned very little to begin with.

All along, government has regarded them as nobodies, without whose taxes the country can survive alright. We all appreciated this.

As a line from several movies I have watched goes, ‘nobody is a nobody.’

This, in simpler terms, means that no person should be regarded as inferior or of lesser status than everybody else.

We are all in this world to serve a purpose.

Sadly, this is what our government has realised.

It is sad because government is only now going back to these ‘nobodies’ to get a few extra Emalangeni to finance various projects, half of which we are never told the truth about.

We do not appreciate this.

We understand the country is in dire straits, financially.

We know where most of the money goes too.

That is why it is disconcerting that government wants to step on the heads of those who were already bearing the brunt of hardship and press them further down.

I shall ask this of Majozi, even though we know it is not exactly his sole doing that we have come to this shameful decision: was there no other alternative?

It is an open secret that the very same ‘nobodies’ are losing jobs left and right while government’s revenue from their taxes went up by eight per cent.

According to Minister Majozi, total revenue, including grants for 2010/11, is estimated at E6.3 billion compared to E9.1billion in 2009/10.

This, the worried minister reported, reflected a drastic reduction of 30.8 per cent.

“Going forward, the volatility of SACU contributions to our economy calls for more prudent spending and the ability to direct resources to where they are needed most,” he said in his speech.

“This also speaks to our ability to generate sustainable domestic sources of revenue, which will help in stabilising our resource base.”

Is taxing the lowly paid a demonstration of our ability to generate sustainable domestic sources of revenue? I think not.

It cannot be, if it will leave our struggling mothers, fathers, sisters and cousins with less cash in their pockets – or did we think as ‘nobodies’ they would not realise the impact ‘a meagre’ three percent would have on their  budgets?


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