What does our government think it is doing taxing people who earn Le125,000 a month? I heard the other morning that this minimum level was to be raised to Le155, 000, presumably the height of consideration and generosity according to the manner and tone of the NRA official who was talking. How much does it take for him to live in present day Sierra Leone? Isn’t it time a government that has the welfare of the people at heart begins to relate taxes to the reality of what people earn? How much does the man who earns Le155, 000 a month pay for a pair of shoes? What does it cost him to provide food, clothes, school fees, rent etc. for his family? How much does he owe the government out of his pittance and where is he to find the wherewithal to survive? Is it possible for him to learn how to pay taxes?
A taxation system based on the deprivation and punishment of the poorest public workers is ridiculous and stupid. Parliamentarians and other authorities concerned should take the blinkers off their eyes and face the truth once and for all. Levels of taxation should match the earning capacity of those obliged to pay in relation to the cost of living, and not treat them as though they all lived in fairyland and a magic wand would be waved to supply the needs of government. The system simply does not make any sense. We need roads, schools, equipment, hospitals etc. etc. So we are told. How can these be provided by taxing people who live on the edge of starvation? An ordinary, modest person living in Sierra Leone at the moment can spend Le155, 000 in less than a week just on electricity bills, food and other necessities for himself alone.
A government that does not know this or thinks it irrelevant, is out of its mind; and a high ranking NRA man who can make the claims and attempt to convince people of the justification he is putting forward, must be less than intelligent. He does not appear to know that what he is saying makes no sense whatsoever. So why get on the radio and make inane statements? The truth is, we are living a lie. We have a taxation system as does all the world, but ours does not work.
What the NRA should be considering is raising the taxes of people who earn Le1,000,000 and above. If they paid up to 25% of their salaries in taxes, their lifestyle would hardly be affected. They could perhaps buy less petrol and walk now and then instead, drink less beer and cut down on other unnecessary expenditure in the national interest. Tax rates for companies such as mining could be raised. The nonsense of taxing virtually penniless people for high principles of contribution to national revenue and development is quite unacceptable. The government must begin to face the truth of the poverty of the majority of our people who cannot live on their earnings anyway.
Forcing them to pay taxes amounts to cruelty and the abuse of human rights. The right to live, to earn a worthwhile living is paramount. When what you earn cannot give you and your family a square meal a day for a month, then the ideal of taxation becomes a farce. Many people would not steal if they were paid decent wages.
So let’s hear less about the country’s essential needs and the responsibility of citizens to feel duty bound to pay taxes as are paid the world over, and more about how salaries can be increased through more vital and aggressive trade policies. The lowest limit for taxes should not be less than Le500,000 per month in today’s financial climate. Otherwise, we can shout from the rooftops about poverty alleviation till kingdom come, taking money from good people and governments abroad to remedy our dire situation. It will amount to no more than dogs baying at the moon. What really matters is what we do inside Sierra Leone for our people. When the minimum wage gets to Le300, 000, then we can talk about taxing those who earn Le500, 000 and above. And if the cost of living continues to rise, then the relevant adjustments can be made. If the government genuinely wants to reduce poverty, a moratorium should be placed on taxes for people in the lower income groups. Already we hear that the microcredit scheme is doomed because of the high interest charged on payments. There should be more concentration on production of local foodstuffs and the exportation of palm products, rice etc. If we had put on a crash programme of rice growing after the war ended in 2002 we would not be where we are now.
Our authorities should find a way to lure the crowds of idlers who jostle and push us off pavements in the cities to relocate to fertile areas in the country where they can plant rice to feed themselves and their families and sell the surplus for good profit. The whole question of poverty alleviation has to be rethought and a new design for internal action drawn up. Import duties on essential commodities could also be lowered and a deadline should be fixed for the abandonment of rice importation. The resulting gain in revenue should boost our finances.
In the meantime, listening to pious talk about taxes and our responsibility as citizens is sheer boredom.