Hlengiwe Mnguni

Just because I pay tax...

2010-09-24 15:00

There are few things that hurt everyone who is taxed on their income quite like missing the money that your payslip or income statement tells you that you had at some point, and now you don't. But apart from it being one of the certainties of life, essentially, it is for a good cause.

In a perfect world, money taxed from the incomes of citizens or businesses goes to providing access to quality education, healthcare, housing and sanitation for all those who need it. It goes to ensuring the citizen's safety, protection and all those other things a state is bound by its constitution to provide.

But in reality the system is always flawed somehow. While there is commitment and excellence in some sections of government, corrupt and undedicated people within the public service always seem to undermine good work, making sure that while budgets for projects and general running of government institutions are drawn up with certain goals in mind, expectations are rarely ever met fully and on schedule.

Tax payers' money is wasted.

It is both instinct and democratic right to demand answers when the system goes wrong like that, and hardly a day goes by without me reading or hearing someone express their frustration over wasted tax payers' money.

But there are times when hearing this phrase disappoints me.

There are people among us who, from the way they utter this phrase, seem to think that because part of their income goes to public funds that makes them, without question, part of the solution. But not only that. Paying income tax seems to have given some people the unassailable right to criticise indiscriminately, without constructive suggestion, and base it all on their tax-paying credentials.

They add millions to the country's fiscus on the one hand and tear down the country's morale bit by bit with anger-fuelled sentiments exchanged on websites and spread at dinner tables and braais.

It might be impossible to quantify in monetary terms, but the damage done by the vitriol spewed by some of our vocal tax payers makes sure that the gains made using tax have to contend with an increasingly defensive and angry population.

I hate paying tax as much as the next person. It is as frustrating to me when some politician decides to misuse or help themselves to public funds. But paying tax only means that I am a law abiding citizen - not necessarily a good one.

Paying tax is not a noble deed - the worst among us do it. There should be more than indignant feelings over wasted funds that drive us to demand more accountability from our government. Because more often than not, the damage goes beyond economics.

When the construction of a school or a hospital fails or is delayed because of corruption for instance, there is obviously more than money that is lost there. Service delivery is slowed and the social implications are wide ranging.

Money matters, sure; but the things money can buy, especially in the public service, matter more.

It would give me more faith in South Africans if and when a government project fails, economic considerations, though important, do not dominate the substance of their dissatisfaction.
Besides, if tax payers - generally taken to include that select group of income tax payers and excluding those whose only tax contributions are through VAT - take their wasted contributions as the primary reason to be outraged and demand explanation for bad governance, what basis does the rest of the population have to complain when government overlooks them?

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