Business Columns

Taxes going down the drain

How many billions of taxpayer funds have we lost since 1994? Until wheels of justice start moving, any development plan is an exercise in futility.
Each one of us has a figure of billions that are lost through fraud and theft. Theft of public funds has become a hobby. Some people should even have it on their curriculum vitaes (CVs) as some of their key accomplishments in life.
In case we forget, some numbers are very familiar. These are K1.7 billion, K63 billion, K13 billion and K264 billion. Then a new K3 billion value of an organic liquid has joined the fray. I am pretty sure the cumulative figures are frightening.
Such worth even exceed what the most profitable businesses make in this country. One can only think that the taxpayer was short-changed in some way.
These are not matters of rocket science, but common sense manifested in dysfunctional hospitals and schools. Unless the public purse is protected, the road ahead looks hazy.
The only call we can make is that our taxes must be secured and used to develop the nation that has nothing to show after 50 years of independence, except for numerous coffin workshops in poor neighborhoods.
The story of political leaders abusing power and using elected offices to enrich themselves appears to be a common African malaise, and Malawi is no exception. A problem with such impunity is that it stifles competition and kills hard work.
Furthermore, it scares away potential investors unwilling to pay rent to offshore accounts of politicians or their surrogate family private trusts. We usually end up with crooks that use our resources and pay no taxes as long as they massage the bellies of sleek politicians.
For example, there is a law requiring public officers from the head of State to a certain level downwards to declare their assets. The law is silent and can do nothing if such elected officials do not declare their assets. It is a catalyst for abuse of public offices and is being exploited to the fullest. Guidelines for political party funding are quite weak and there is no law that compels political parties to declare their sources of funding. Sometimes one is tempted to think if the Forfeiture Act was re-established with some variation such abuse can be arrested.
In my view, I believe that we can establish a Transparency and Accountability Commission with wide-ranging powers, including prosecution, annual compulsory disclosures of incomes and taxes paid by senior public officers up to the head of State, including political parties.
All senior public officials in this category should file tax returns and declare their sources of income under oath on an annual basis. The Transparency and Accountability Commission can lead the process as an independent body that ensures all senior public officials are accountable for their actions and punitive measures are put in place for any unexplained exponential rise in wealth.
Political parties remain one major conduits through which public funds are channelled. Up to this day, I do not believe that taxpayer funds should be given to parties with a certain threshold of seats in Parliament.
My understanding is that a political party is an association of like-minded individuals that share certain common ideals. Its members must be in a position to fund their activities, and should not put a bill on the taxpayer.
My main concern is the fact that we continue to see unregulated political party funding. Consider cases where political parties hold huge fund raising functions and private individuals make some donations that appear no less than an investment in an overpriced government contract.
If you can fast-track things, one can see the apparent link with how government contracts are given to recover some of these donations, and the tenderprenuer billionaires we create in the process. We need to put a legislation that restricts the amount of money an individual company or person can contribute to a political party.
If properly established, Transparency and Accountability Commission, under an effective legislation, will have to compel all political parties to declare on an annual basis their sources of income and publish its list of donors. If there is no compliance, trustees of the concerned parties can be held accountable or even have bank accounts of such parties frozen. It borders on intent to defraud the people of Malawi through indirect methods.
To get matters right, there are many loopholes in the public finance system that are facilitating such abuse of taxpayers money.
In a week’s time, we will celebrate five decades of independence. What are we going to show for it? Well, I can think of daily power cuts, youth unemployment, poor road networks, poverty of undefined degree, malnutrition, lack of world-class medical facilities, mud hats even in the capital and commercial city, lack of clean water, poorly funded universities among other indicators of depravation.
Over 100 000 students wrote their examinations, and all need a university or college that cannot accept them due to limited space or capacity. n

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