This week, I had purposed to unpack the NSSF Act 2013. Then my favorite tax guru sent me some information on the same to help me break it down. I got a headache by the time I got to the calculations and collapsed into a veritably confused heap. I tossed that idea out of the window immediately. So I switched to my current favorite subject: “devil-ution ”. On 4th August 2010, Kenyans voted 66.9% in favor of the new constitution that created a devolved system of government. We did this. It wasn’t shoved down our throats by the existing government nor was it a roadside declaration by the then President. We exercised our democratic rights to do this to ourselves. What we failed to pay attention to was that it was going to require a lot of money. The naysayers at the time told us as much. But we ignored them. The devil is always in the detail, and the devil-ution chicken has come home to roost.
Now county citizens are up in arms at the new taxation measures that county governments are undertaking in order to finance their operations. The sad and hopeless fact is that the primary revenue source for any government is taxation. Many people do not seem to realize this. Perhaps a history of taxation is relevant here. The website e-file.com has a rich history of taxation and reveals that the earliest known tax was implemented in Mesopotamia over 4500 years ago, where people paid taxes throughout the year in the form of livestock, which was the preferred currency at the time.
There were also very many unusual taxes incurred by ancient governments with the aim of raising revenue.
For instance during the 1st century AD, Roman emperor Vaspasian placed a tax on urine. Buyers of the urine paid the tax. The urine from public urinals was sold as an essential ingredient for several chemical processes e.g. it was used in tanning and also by launderers as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten woolen togas etc. Therefore, those who obtained valuable urine from collectors were charged a tax. Centuries later, King Henry I allowed knights to opt out of their duties fight in wars by paying a tax called “scutage”. At first the tax was not high, but then King John came to power and raised it to a rate of 300%. Some claim that the excessive tax rate was one of the things that contributed to the creation of the Magna Carta, which limited the king’s power. In 1660, England placed a tax on fireplaces. The tax led to people covering their fireplaces with bricks to conceal them and avoid paying the tax. It was repealed in 1689.
In 1696, England implemented a window tax, taxing houses based on the number of windows they had. That led to many houses having very few windows in order to avoid paying the tax. Eventually this became a health problem and ultimately led to the tax’s repeal in 1851. In the 1700’s, England placed a tax on bricks. Builders soon realized that they could use bigger bricks (and thus fewer bricks) to pay less tax. Soon after, the government caught on and placed a larger tax on bigger bricks. Brick taxes were finally repealed in 1850.
There are numerous other examples of strange taxes that were created around the world, but the important outcome of these taxes were the avoidance mechanisms that citizens would put in place to mitigate the expense. What county citizens need to shift focus to is how their valuable tax shillings are spent. We can’t avoid the taxes as certainly as we can’t avoid death. But we can and should hold our tax collectors to account for how they spend our money. Installing clean toilets, running water, security and lights in the fresh produce markets would be a good place to start. You can’t be taxed and yet expect to roll over and play dead if you cannot see where your tax shillings are being spent. You should then spend your limited energy on street protests not against the tax (as that will most certainly fall on very deaf, cash starved and battle hardened ears) but on the appropriate use of that money. The conversation then changes to one of accountability from the county government and acceptance of the decision you made on August 4th 2010.
It will be disingenuous of us to expect functioning health facilities, roads, garbage collection and other services provided by the county governments if we are not willing to pay for them. That it will take a tax on our chickens is another story, but if that is the most likely wider source for bringing us into the taxation bracket then so be it. We need to remember that county governments are not businesses that can opt to manufacture goods or provide mobile telephony in order to generate the revenue that will help develop the county. We seriously need to stop lambasting the county governments at every turn when they are trying to keep afloat. What we need to do is hold them to account and keep that pressure up relentlessly: you want to tax my chicken? Then help me find a good market for it. You want to tax my lorry delivering produce to a market? Then provide a good parking and secure facilities to offload and store my goods efficiently. You want to tax my boda-boda? Then maintain the roads on which I operate to reduce the cost of servicing my machine and provide a dedicated and secure parking zone where I can operate from. Change the conversation; rise up in protest about the use of the funds and not the source of the funds. We will then start to see less devil-ution rhetoric and more “let’s kick these ****** out of office and get people who can deliver what we pay for” conversations.