Analysis: OLIVER NZALA
“INTERNATIONAL something is a biggi situation them packi our money oh take it to other nation “oh no-no” invest for your country oh, make it a better place spendi money for your country oh, make it a better place”.These are some of the words Nigerian music sensational Techno uses in the second verse of his song titled Rara. Whether it’s a good song or not is another day’s debate over a drink but the song certainly is a call to Africans to become patriotic to their own countries. How do Zambians make Zambia a better place to live in by investing locally? What steps and measures should be put in for such a daunting task considering that others think development is a role of the Government only? If truly it’s the role of Government, then what is our role?
Whilst developed countries have reached their current status using many ways, taxation of its citizens has been a key component on their development agenda. Taxation is the best form of investing in a country’s development. No one likes to pay tax but at the end of the day, it’s everyone’s civic responsibility to do so. This responsibility is what turns into an inherent culture of paying tax voluntarily.
It is easy to think that “I do not see the benefits of paying tax”, but emphasis must always be made that there are people within our society whose income cannot sustain their livelihood if it’s taxed. Therefore, someone else has to do it and in this case, those with higher income bear the economic burden of ensuring that the weak in society have social and economic equity through government services enabled by taxation. Infrastructure development such as roads, schools, and hospitals are some of the social and economic services provided through taxes collected on behalf of government.
Part of the reason why Zambia remained economically indebted for a long time was because its economic sovereignty was exchanged with donor aid and borrowing. This in turn had changed people’s mindsets to levels of total dependency, thereby affecting citizenry contributions towards national development. Torben Reinke (Sovereignty and Democracy: Zambia’s Challenges) reiterates this problem when commenting in the book Zambia at Fifty Years. Nothing lasts forever, though – the years 2016 and 2018 took a new twist towards addressing this challenge when then Minister of Finance Felix Mutati announced that the 2018 budget and others would be financed more through domestic revenue mobilisation.
In his book Up and Out of Poverty, Chinese President Xi Jinping says: “As long as we look to ourselves for the answers and become self-reliant, we will be able to cast off our fetters and move forward with ease. With persistence, even water droplets can drill through stone.” This is an honest statement that Zambia cannot afford to ignore: pragmatic persistence and self-reliance will help solve problems in the long term.
A good starting point to note was when the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) gave a tax amnesty to defaulters in 2017. By implication, instead of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) closing their businesses due to huge taxes owed, the authority gave new blood to the economy by allowing these enterprises to continue operating as long as their tax accounts were cleaned. On a positive note, revenues were collected and at the same time, the country saw more businesses (individual and corporate) registered for different tax types. This in a broader sense is tax re-invested within an economy.
Domestic revenue mobilisation seems to be working for Zambia as evidenced by ZRA’s performance for the last 16 months. Increased voluntary tax compliance levels are a sign that culture is changing and it is only right that this upscale trend continues. Such a trend is equal to Zambians investing resources locally through tax for national development. In the long run, this commitment by locals to pay tax creates accountability and good governance because Government has to honour its promise of providing services.
ZRA can do all it can to collect as much revenue as it can using different methods, but it starts with a positive mind centred on voluntary tax compliance to build a nation: a nation willing to use its own resources to have a mature home-grown economy that sustains generations. Rwanda, Norway, Sweden and many others have done it. Zambia can do it as well, with strong institutions in the chain of managing these resources in order to provide social justice for its citizens.
The dynamics of national development keep changing as the world changes. Embedding the culture of paying tax should have been done a long time ago and definitely the story could have been different. It is commendable that Zambians are beginning to appreciate the benefits of paying tax, as earlier alluded to, through the performance of the revenue agency. The factors are many but the domestic contribution has been tremendous. It is important to remember that one percent of all K1 coins collected from more than 16 million Zambians is enough investment towards development. Techno puts it plainly when he says: “Investi for your country oh, make it a better place.”
The author is a Master of International Relations and Development student at Mulungushi University.
Analysis: OLIVER NZALA