Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Accountants replace journalists as targets of presidential ire

“Journalists are in trouble,” a male spectator on the grounds of parliament was heard to accurately predict as incoming president Ian Khama expounded on the “discipline” signpost of his 4Ds roadmap when giving his first inauguration speech on April 1, 2008.

“Allow me to highlight some of the social problems in our society that we need to address as a nation,” Khama had just stated. “These range from alcohol abuse, reckless driving on our roads, disrespect for elders, vandalising of school property, wastage of scarce resources such as water, the use of abusive language in public discourse and defamation, slander and false statements in the media. The examples I have cited reflect a lack of discipline by some sections of our community.”

Exactly 10 years later to the day, another profession was singled out for problematic mention by a new president in his first inauguration speech.

Among the “practical and realistic strategies” which President Mokgweetsi Masisi said will be implemented as a matter of urgency is “Compelling accountants and tax advisors to pay their first professional allegiance in the discharge of their duties to the nation, then ensuring that their clients pay in full taxes that are legitimately due.” For the right price, the professionals that the new president mentioned will help you legally avoid paying taxes that the country so desperately needs. As just one example, some businesspeople avoid paying what is legitimately due to the Botswana Unified Revenue Service by paying themselves low salaries in order to reduce their tax liability and then financing a lavish lifestyle (that could include luxury cars) via lawful company expenditure then making claims from BURS.

What Masisi said last Sunday suggests that his government will attempt to tighten up the tax code. However, that will be a mammoth task, one that even highly developed nations like the United States are struggling with. As late as 2012, the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, refused to release 10 years’ worth of back tax returns. Had he done so, the tax avoidance strategies that he had lawfully used in that period of time would have been revealed, thus lousing up chances of being elected.

On the whole, the government seems determined to ensure that as little money as possible is tricked out of the national economy. In his 2018/19 budget speech, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo, announced that his ministry is developing a tax administration legislation to improve the efficiency of tax revenue collection.

 “Progress in drafting this legislation has been slow, but it is expected to be completed during the next financial year. Meanwhile, my ministry is also working on the review of the Income Tax Act to introduce Transfer Pricing Rules. Review of the layman’s drafts of the Bills is ongoing and the plan is to have the laws approved by Parliament in 2018,” he said in February.

Transfer pricing is one of the ways in which multi-billions of pula are tricked out of Africa, mostly to western nations and, increasingly nowadays, Asia.

On the basis of what Masisi said, it is also highly likely that accountants and tax advisors will attract greater scrutiny from the Financial intelligence Agency.

Never having liked the media, Khama made it extremely difficult to practise journalism, starved critical newspapers of advertising revenue and after the fashion of Donald Trump, not only took to calling it fake news but also falsely claimed said that it had invented that phantom genre of journalism. In his last address to the Botswana Democratic Party, Khama described Botswana’s journalists as “the worst in the world.”

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