It's our money

2010-06-28 00:00

“DO you think that the money raised from your taxes is being spent wisely and efficiently? Would you like to have a say over where your money goes? The Taxpayers’ Movement of South Africa (TPM) aims to do just that: give South African taxpayers a voice,” states this new organisation’s website.

According to the TPM, there are about 4,5 million individual taxpayers in the country, who make up about one third of the country’s tax base. The movement was launched in early June to create a platform for “ordinary taxpayers” who are concerned about government expenditure, and how authorities treat them. The group was set up by five people from diverse backgrounds who “came across each other because we shared a common concern about government spending”, said Jonathan Friedland, one of the founding members.

According to its website, the TPM aims to “remind MECs, MPs and ministers whose money they are spending, while also reminding ourselves that we are paying for every cent that is spent by government — it is not government’s money, it is in fact our money”.

The movement aims to become “an increasingly influential organisation which the public and media can seek for comments concerning government spending and tax-related issues.” It aims to do this by “harnessing public dissatisfaction with the status quo to spur activism and influence policy”. It plans to achieve this by using strategies like petitions, the media and research publications. Examples of the kind of issues the organisation plans to address include the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, the proposed Eskom tariff hikes, the SABC tax and the government bailout of parastatals such as South African Airways, the SABC and the Land Bank.

A tax expert and former associate lecturer, Friedland said that one of the hallmarks of a democracy is debate. “A critical voice missing from debate in South Africa is that of taxpayers. Political parties, unions and civil society bodies protest about government expenditure, but taxpayers’ voices are never heard.” The new grass-roots organisation “has already encountered widespread consensus about the issues we want to address. Many, many people are dissatisfied with government expenditure of taxpayers’ resources, but don’t have a way to express that.”

He said the organisation is not, however, only about criticising “inefficient expenditure”, but also about showing support for sound monetary policy and management. “We will give credit where it is due and support government initiatives that are in line with our values, like the Treasury and auditor general’s questioning the state’s buying of R23 million worth of World Cup tickets.”

Other current campaigns the website identifies are holding accountable Minister of Communications Siphiwe Nyanda, dubbed “the Minister of Luxury”, for running up huge hotel bills at the Mount Nelson and The Twelve Apostles hotels in Cape Town, at taxpayers’ expense; the cost of having two capitals, Pretoria and Cape Town; and issues to do with taxpayers’ rights.

“We are looking into the possibility of introducing an independent tax ombudsman, like the banking and insurance ombudsman, to give individual taxpayers some kind of recourse. Currently, taxpayers who are unhappy with the way the SA Revenue Services deal with them have nowhere to go to register their dissatisfaction. Other Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia have a tax ombudsman, and it’s another of the hallmarks of a democracy that we lack.”

Friedland and the other founding members, finance journalist Maya Fisher-French, consultants Gillian Findlay and Rael Cline and research and policy analyst Vivian Atud are volunteers whose work for the TPM is pro bono. The organisation is currently on a membership drive to encourage taxpayers to sign up as members as “we need a constant revenue stream in order to carry out the work of the organisation”. Since its launch, approximately 330 people have signed up, mostly in major cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, East London, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth. The organisation has employed a full-time junior manager in its Johannesburg office, Dale Schwikkard, who has an honours degree in economics and works on research projects for the TPM.

“We appeal to taxpaying South Africans to sign up as members because it is by creating a mass movement of significant numbers that we can show the authorities our dissatisfaction with their inefficient use of our taxes. We want to cast our net widely and include both direct and indirect taxpayers, and companies as well as individuals. For that reason, the annual membership fee is only R50.”

ACCORDING to its website, the TPM is a “nonpartisan, registered nonprofit organisation (NPO) which advocates the prudent expenditure of government revenues in the public’s best interest. This should be underpinned by tax policies that promote economic growth characterised by simplicity, transparency and efficiency.

“The TPM aims to expose and prevent distortionary and wasteful taxes and expenditure. It acts as a resource to educate taxpayers of their rights and what constitutes sound fiscal policies. Furthermore, it serves as a forum whereby all interested individuals, corporations and government alike can freely debate such issues.

“The TPM is not a tax practitioners’ organisation, nor a political organisation, although the group recognises that it does not operate in a political vacuum. Its views and policy recommendations are based on economic and social considerations only.”

TPM board members include Leon Louw, executive director of the Free Market Foundation, award-winning independent journalist Maya Fisher- French; and Gillian Findlay, economist and founder of a corporate communications company.

— tpmsa.org

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