Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Mushrooming levies are just too much and uncalled for

We are taxed enough already through the litany of levies that have been imposed on us in the last few years. You see, a tax is a tax even if you call it by any other name. You can call it a levy, charge, licence, fee, duty or whatever. It is still a tax. 

So, fresh news about Tshekedi Khama’s move to impose a   $30 tax on non-SADC visitors to Botswana is disquieting.  His Ministry already charges us P10 for the mere sin of spending a night in a hotel. This therefore means that, if you spend five nights in a hotel, Mr Khama takes away the sum of P50 from your pocket.

 For a very long time, the hotel night tax or bed levy if you like, was P5.00 but was raised by a whopping 100 percent a few years ago.  And the thing about our taxes or levies is that we have one too many and some of us have even lost count. We have levies ÔÇô read taxes – on pretty much everything. There is a levy on construction firms, electricity and fuel consumption, cattle export and slaughter, and your air ticket.  If you take a closer look at your airline ticket, you will see that government taxes and levies account for more than 50 percent of the cost of the ticket.  In that list of levies, I haven’t mentioned the infamous alcohol levy.  

I also see that the new Gambling Authority is asking for a non-refundable fee of one million Pula for casino licenses which as with all taxes, are ultimately paid by the gambler and not the casino operator.  I don’t want to engage in a debate on the morality of gambling or alcohol levies save to say that it is not always prudent to set them too high lest they exacerbate and not curb the behaviour. 

So, this inventory of levies reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s famous saying about government and taxes. Reagan said: “The Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short sentences. If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidise it.” 

So, my opposition to the new tax is that it is being imposed on top of another one without spelling clearly what it seeks to achieve that couldn’t be achieved through the bed levy. 

The other problem with the levies in Botswana is that they are almost invariably afflicted by weak oversight, poor governance and lack of accountability. If you were to ask your Member of Parliament how much has been raised through the bed levy over the last five years for example and what it has been used for, they would be totally clueless.

 In equal measure, they would be clueless, were they to be asked on what the alcohol levy has been used for. It is therefore wrong for us to perpetuate the mushrooming of levies all over the pace when we know fully well that most of these are now little fiefdoms which operate outside the remit of our Parliament. 

And Parliament as the uppermost body of elected representatives, should and is the custodian of money collected from the public. It is for this reason that every year in February, the Minister of Finance goes to Parliament to present his proposed budget not as a charade, but to seek legal authority to collect and spend money.  That is the essence of the Budget Speech.  If he did not do that he would be acting illegally. He would also risk a government shutdown.  After all, money collected from the public should be accounted for to the last thebe.

It is therefore important for Tshekedi Khama to present a clear case of why he needs a new $30 levy when he is already collecting the bed levy. We are taxed enough already.

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