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Of slumlords giving to Caesar

IN the past few days everyone has been talking – not about some residents in Ndola’s Chipulukusu township grappling with open defecation outside a communal washroom, but about something that makes a tenant crazy at the month-end and question his landlord’s sanity.
It seems everyone is peeved about Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA)’s withholding tax, which has suddenly become a buzz word in the country.
Of course, this is not something that would make a slumlord or landlord giggle with joy like someone who has just had a roll in the hay for the first time.
The centre of attraction by ZRA, albeit belatedly, are rental charges on properties dotted around the hood.
Never mind if the house you are renting looks like an abandoned washroom in Chipulukusu shanty township. As long as the landlord’s hands are in your pockets, ZRA would want to knock on your door and ask you to deduct the tax from your landlord’s income.
Although the taxman understands why many people in the hood misunderstand the withholding tax, he is keen to breath the collective breadth of slum-dwellers this time around.
From the look of things, there is no turning back as the (taxman) is determined to claim what belongs to Caesar in down-trodden areas.
It seems not even the faded residual glory of your fearful section chairman, once called ba chaimani, can save you from this tax.
With this issue at hand, I guess most landlords wish they were registered as displaced persons feeding on the generosity of DMMU instead of being identified as property owners in the hood.
Which taxman would want to levy the vulnerable group?
There is another more straight-forward explanation to the fears about withholding tax in the hood, from both the landlord and the tenant – you would know this when your landlord comes knocking on your door violently like he is seeking refuge from Boko Haram.
Between the two people’s agreement to pay rent at an agreed time frame, there is the problem of delayed salaries from some employers.
By the time the tenant receives his salary from his employer, the slumlord would have borrowed money from 10 shylocks in the hood expecting to pay back when the tenant pays rent.
Obviously, you don’t expect your landlord to have a percentage of his income deducted by his tenant.
Paying tax among most slum dwellers is not like sharing a mug of opaque Chibuku beer at a tavern. Neither is it like sending your image on Facebook and expecting a lot of likes.
This is why some landlords in some towns have resorted to the #increaserentals hashtag campaign to force ZRA to back-pedal on its withholding tax action.
After seemingly losing the mineral royalty tax battle, the taxman has turned his barrel to the most unexpected client – the landlord.
The fight with the mining cartel was almost predictable because of the threats they unleashed, including throwing hundreds of miners back to the streets where they came from.
The mines also threatened to close shop, pack their bags and head either to Chile or the Democratic Republic of Congo, which, like Zambia, have copper like sand.
But even as they threatened to do so, however, they knew that our mines are hot cakes.
They risked giving up greenfield mines which the Chinese or Indians were going to inherit – gleefully.
In case they are in doubt, they should ask Anglo-American Corporation, who are to date, pinching themselves for having abandoned the mines because as far as they were concerned, copper prices were never going to recover.
But as soon as they were walking out slowly, Glencore, who own Mopani Copper Mines (Nkana and Mufulira Division), and Vedanta Resources (owners of Konkola Copper Mines) ran faster to occupy Konkola and Nchanga Divisions.
Non-Ferrous Metals on the other hand were quick to grab Chambishi and Luanshya mines.
Now, ZRA still has a lot of energy to spoil a fight with landlords, who, the tax authorities genuinely believe, have been withholding tax.
The biggest problem ZRA has is the failure to classify the landlords, whose ownership of houses varies – from those in Lusaka’s John Laing and Misisi to Mahopo – all the way to Roma and Kabulonga, New Kasama and Ibex Hill.
The problem with the hornet’s nest ZRA has stirred is not with the landlord per se, rather it is the tenants, who feel that it is they who are being targeted.
However, the issue is not yet settled and people are still talking.

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