By midnight tonight, you will be liable to at least Sh20,000 in penalties if you miss the deadline to file your tax returns. This fee was raised 20 times in the last budget to essentially push you to tell the taxman how much you contributed to the State coffers for the whole year.
For those employed in the formal sector, you have the numbers well splashed on your P9 forms, since your tax is chopped at the source. The easiest and the smoothest yielding tax source for the Kenya Revenue Authority.
This same month, the government outlined the way it intends to collect more money from you and how it will be spent on various projects. In other words, the grip is about to get tighter and you should be prepared for more squeeze.
There is nothing wrong with that. Even Jesus said give Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Cool. But hang on a second, do you know what Caesar does with what you have given him? Do you care to find out and don’t you think you should?
Well, these are the pertinent questions a taxpayer like you must ponder as you file your returns.
Two things happen when the funds you have given to Caesar to spend for your wellbeing are being planned for, you are kept away deliberately or you simply ignore what happens to it. The consequences are what you go through in endless traffic, poor healthcare, expensive food and runaway corruption.
According to the US based International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget survey 2017, Kenya’s score faltered below average of 60 in the budget transparency. In other words, there was less citizen participation and decreased involvement of independent oversight institutions in the budgeting process.
Kenya scored 46, two points below its 2015 score in the same index that assesses 102 countries around the world. Kenyans only know about the budget when the estimates are presented in Parliament.
IBP’s report released in March 2018 on counties even paints a grimmer picture. Only six out of 47 counties – a paltry 13 per cent – published their enacted budgets for the public to know what is going on. Countries also fail to provide quarterly implementation reports to help the public monitor whether the money is being spent as per the plan. These are legally supposed to be published within 30 days of the end of the quarter.
In the first half of the financial year ending today, 14 counties did not incur any expenditure on development according to the Controller of Budget. Some of them are among the poorest according to the latest household economic survey.
The 33 counties that did some development had only used eight per cent of the annual development budget in half the year. It is time taxpayers demanded value for their hard-earned money.
Kenyans must participate in both the budget making process and make leaders accountable whenever they are caught pilfering the public purse. Ask hard questions about the leaders in your counties because you fund every blue number plate and county vehicles you see around.
There is a need for extensive awareness as a long term plan to help keeping leaders accountable and even help in the wider war against corruption.
In developed economies, taxation is a major issue. So much that elections are decided on who has the best tax policy and who intends to spend our taxes on what projects. No US president has dared to introduce Value Added Tax on goods for fear of voter revolt. Unfortunately, we are a little bit far from that, we still care more on who we will hand it to steal and whether they share the stomach with us.
By September, you may start paying for VAT on fuel, added to the road maintenance levy, railway development levy, and other levies which make 37 per cent of your pump prices will skyrocket. Are the roads being maintained? Do you still hit a huge pot hole while driving?
As you line up to file tax returns in the typical last-minute rush of a Kenyan, just remember that you are the source of the many trillions splashed in the budget statements and that you must be keen on how each coin is spent otherwise, your online rant will still continue the haemorrhage as you pay more to even complain. You are the “public” and the government has your funds to manage, keep your eye on it and be involved.
After devolution, the public must be careful not to give MCAs the liberty to decide how many trips they will make to benchmark for a small agricultural project they intend to start in the villages at a hefty cost. All must participate.
With the blank cheque offered in the lack of participation and concern on how your taxes are spent, they are free to allocate money to tarmac a road going to a governor’s home while the road that leads to the local hospital; or the market is left as a carrot to be dangled in the next campaigns.
You have been reduced to be an observer in a process you have funded. Occasionally, you get wind of how one wheelbarrow was bought at a cost more than the one you used to put up your house and how a pen cost what you spend for your shoe budget. What do you do? Go online and rant. It doesn’t matter, it makes little or no change at all if you contribute so generously and then sit back to watch the money stolen or just wasted.
When the auditor general raises queries about your county and all you do is sing and dance around the culprit the next time they are driving a huge tinted SUV in your village dirt road looking for votes, you are part of the problem.
Edwin Okoth is a Nation journalist; @Edwincowino, [email protected]