Paying Taxes Is To Take a Moral Stand
Conversation at Sunday lunch with friends in November will almost always turn to that dreaded topic that hangs over everyone’s head like a dark, stormy rain cloud.
After a few drinks and some general chatter, someone will inevitably ask: “Who’s filed their tax return?”
And somewhere in that group, there is always that one person who asks what everyone else is thinking: “Why should we pay taxes? The government and a handful of cronies are squandering my hard-earned money!”
Everyone nods in agreement and thus begins a most valuable conversation about citizenship and our participation within the fabric of society.
This year, however, this annual ritual was very much subdued. Everyone stared glumly at their drinks and I think I saw someone gulp his down very quickly!
The SARS Scandal
The ongoing SARS scandal is the stuff criminal novels are made of: suspicious payments allegedly made into the personal account of the SARS commissioner, conflicting reports over whether or not there was a rogue unit at the tax authority, SARS being dragged into the power tussle inside the ANC, reports that the tax body is holding back on reimbursing taxpayers because the money is being used to fund a whole lot of other shady business that I’ve lost the energy to keep up with!
It is no wonder, then, that ordinary folk like us are feeling very despondent right now about filing our tax returns and have become very cynical about the way in which our tax money is being used.
To top all this, a few weeks ago a financial study showed that only 13% (or 7,2 million) of South Africans earn enough to even pay tax. Of these, 480 000 people are footing 61% of the income tax bill. These people earn more than R750 000 a year and represent 1% of the population.
If you are blessed enough to earn annually between R70 000 (a meagre monthly income of R5 800) and R500 000, you’re in the very next bracket and represent 11% of all taxpayers.
50 Million Depend on 13%
Some 50 million people depend on your taxes for their livelihood and access to basic services.
It’s a sobering thought. And what a burden it is to carry. It is a burden that we citizens should not have to carry alone.
It is morally reprehensible that our elected leaders have siphoned off tax money which should be used for the collective good to finance their personal and political interests. Their complete disregard for the countless millions who live in the most precarious conditions directly violates their human dignity.
The money wasted through corruption should be used to educate our young people and give them better access to employment opportunities that would break the cycle of poverty, and also have the added benefit that more people would then be able to make a tax contribution for the much-needed social services.
This squandered money should be used to provide better health care, especially for people living far from large urban centres and who cannot afford private healthcare.
What that Wasted Money Could Buy
How much money has been wasted that could improve our crippled public transport system, grow our aged and incomplete water and electricity infrastructure?
Imagine all the poverty alleviation and economic stimulus initiatives that could be created with taxpayer money—instead of being used to bail out inefficient and ineffective parastatals and finance ludicrous nuclear deals. I shudder to think about the inflated legal bills that our president is incurring, at our expense, to fight the 700-plus charges of corruption against him.
When I consider all of these things, it hurts me to click that final submission button on my efiling.
Yet, none of this is an excuse for me to abscond from my moral and civic duty to pay my taxes. Some of that money, thank God, still trickles down to those who are starved of all the goods of our society. It is not enough. But imagine how much less it would be if the 11% decided not to pay taxes.
Nothing Excuses Not Paying Tax
Jesus’ instruction to “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God” takes on a whole new meaning. We cannot and must not descend to the level of our leaders. We cannot justify our small-scale corruption and disregard for the poor by saying that our thieving politicians do the same.
At this juncture, paying taxes is taking a moral stand. It is an action that speaks volumes to our love of neighbour and stands as a rejection of the corruption around us.
But this is only one part of it. We also need to put pressure on our leadership and say enough is enough. We apply this pressure by our choices at election time. Or when we show support for politicians, journalists, and civil society activists who are risking their careers, health and in some cases even their lives to actively fight against corruption.
Yes, the financial and moral burden on some of us is great. It demands of us courage, fortitude, hope, faith, and love. We need to believe and pray that our small actions can contribute to the new beginning this country so desperately needs.
So, have you filed your tax return yet?