Monday, May 16, 2022

The height of dishonesty

It was a drizzling Friday afternoon as I left the newsroom to board my commuter mini-bus. As is the norm on Fridays, I looked forward to that ice cold beer that would ÔÇô albeit temporarily ÔÇô flush away the burden of a stressful week gone by.

About six adults and a bunch of primary school pupils with their seemingly inflated backpacks were cramped up in the bus, four passengers on a seat for three.

After a couple of stops on the journey, amid the relative silence, the squeaky voice of a pupil (he must have been 10 years old) bade the driver to pull over. The boy hopped off and headed home.

Seconds later as we rejoined the rush-hour traffic crawl, a sharp rap on the driver’s window drew our attention. To our astonishment, it turned out the boy had rushed back, after realising he had forgotten to pay his fare.

“Nna ebile ne ke itlhobogile (I had given up),” remarked the driver as he took the money.

The little incident had taken everyone by surprise. It reminded me of all the times I had forgotten (sometimes deliberately) to pay and still went away with a clear conscience.

Or the time I had clipped a newspaper under my armpit while holding a full shopping basket at the local supermarket and paid for everything except the newspaper. I did not go back after realising my mistake.

Or the time a street vendor accidentally gave me two scratch cards instead of one and I happily walked away; “Modimo gao fe ka letsogo” (loosely translated to mean whatever God gives, he does not let land in our palm ÔÇô therefore you find your own luck and exploit it).

That this little yet symbolic gesture by a 10-year-old can arouse so much astonishment as to even inspire an article is a testament to the degree of moral decay in our society.

Former president Festus Mogae once criticised Batswana for “living beyond their means”. With the ever rising costs of the basic food basket, accommodation ÔÇô and, of course, the dreadful alcohol levy ÔÇô it has become incredibly difficult for people to live within their means. We are always looking for alternative ways, honest or not, to save or make that extra cash on the sidelines to complement our little income.

We tend to formulate all kinds of justifications for lying and stealing. We convince ourselves that defrauding insurance companies, the tax-man, civic bodies and stealing from chain-stores is alright because they are big enough to absorb the losses.

But in the end, are we not the ones who end up indirectly paying the price for these fraudulent acts.

The Botswana Insurance Company (BIC)’s Claims Supervisor, Mogotsi Gasennelwe, says fraudulent claims by clients tend to affect premiums in the long run.

“Insurance companies have to invest in training to ensure they are able to identify and curb these false claims at a cost which again is passed on to the client via premium hikes,” he says.

Gasennelwe says the turnaround time for claims are adversely affected as the frequency and intensity of investigations increase.

We also have those employees who pad their expense accounts. I have a friend whose job involves a lot of travelling around the country. He has turned his trips into his own little cash cow. “I would sleep in a cheap hotel/lodge and charge the company the rate for the most expensive one in the area,” he says.

He would also bribe petrol attendants to give him receipts left behind by other motorists and use them to claim from his employer.

Shoplifting, no matter how insignificant it may seem, also somehow comes back to bite us. The downturn for the retailer comes in many forms, the first of which is the lost revenue for the stolen item.

As a result, the loss must be passed onto consumers by increasing the price of goods in general to compensate.

The retailers are forced to put in place security measures and include surveillance cameras, security guards and even electronic surveillance tags and their alarmed detectors to curb shoplifting which in turn may be subsidized by the customers themselves.

International studies have shown that customers shed out millions every year to subsidize theft.
Tax evasion is one of the most common cases of fraud.

“Tax evasion results in the decrease of the revenue that the Government needs to provide public services and infrastructure development to the people of Botswana,” warns Matshediso Pue, the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) Principal Communications Officer. “The long term implications will be a fall in the living standards of the people as a result of lack of revenue for services and development.”

She adds: “It is an illegal activity in terms of the Revenue Laws and we would like to urge every taxpayer to desist from partaking in that activity. The BURS Act prescribes hefty penalties for tax evasion offences which includes imprisonment.”

There are countless forms of fraud and dishonesty but each case of immoral deed, it seems, boomerangs on us and we all end up paying the price. So as difficult as it may seem, we may just have to start learning to live within our means.

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