BY: Agok Takpiny, JUN/28/2015, SSN;
On June 22 this year, Radio Miraya with Sebit Willaim on the Morning Breakfast Show, reported that the “Authorities in Lakes State are mulling over the possibility of introducing a tax on cattle. Under the proposals announced on Friday, cattle owners will be required to pay one South Sudanese pound per head of cattle they own.”
Daniel Awet Akot, the SPLM party chairman in Lakes State, says, “if introduced, the cattle tax will provide revenues needed to boost development in the state”.
This is troubling on many levels, the authorities in Lakes state, including Awet Akot are either inconsiderate or are utterly illiterate economically.
There are six main reasons why the government tax individuals or businesses. Let’s see where the cattle tax fits in.
Firstly, the government uses tax revenue to fund infrastructure, education, welfare and security. Under this view, citizens are obliged to pay taxes on their income from work if the taxpayer is an employee or from profits if the taxpayer is an investor.
In most cases an employee can be an investor at the same time and so he/she must amalgamate all his income from work and the profits from investment so that the yearly earning can be taxed as one.
In the case of South Sudan or Lakes state in particular, a question ought to be asked, where does the cow tax fit in here? Cows are mainly kept for consumption and not for commercial use and the cattle keepers are not working for an income generated employment neither, therefore the government purposing the cow tax is baseless.
Moreover, experience tells us that development has never been a priority for Lakes state authorities right from 2005 to present, therefore the claim made by the decorated General that taxing cattle keepers will boost development in the state is deceitful.
Secondly, a government can tax things that are believed to be negatively affecting the society’s behavior. For example, a year or so ago the state governor, Gen Matur Chut, issued a decree banning alcohol sale or consumption statewide with the exception of few semi-standard hotels.
The governor believed that alcohol was destroying young people and gelweng (cattle keepers) in particular.
In a sound economic policy aimed at social engineering or altering people’s behaviors, the state government should have just imposed high taxes on alcohol as a commodity which the government wants people to consume less of.
By imposing higher taxes, alcohol would become more expensive and out of reach for many people, hence higher prices will make people stop buying alcohol. Again, under this principle of taxation, the cow tax is unfair.
Thirdly, a government can use tax revenues to help the poor in the form of welfare. According to this view, wealthy people who have higher incomes have to pay more taxes as a way of reducing inequality of income.
Does the cow tax fit in here? Hardly, the cattle keepers are themselves among the poorest.
Furthermore, the widows of the heroes of our 21 years of struggle are now struggling without any help from neither the national nor state governments. South Sudan like many other African countries see welfare payment as a “waste” of money, hence the cow tax is unjustified.
Fourthly, the government can use taxation as a tool to control the inflation. One of the causes of inflation is ‘too much money chasing too few goods’. Government can take away the extra disposable incomes of the people through higher taxes and thus reduce the aggregate demand in the economy and resulting in a low inflation rate.
This principle of taxation has nothing to do with cattle keepers and their cows simply because cattle keepers don’t have money, some of them can go for many years without seeing 1 SSP.
The fifth principle which is about protecting local industry by taxing heavily the imported goods and charging low taxes on local produce is not applicable here.
And so do the six principles which are aimed at trade deficit or unbalanced payment where a government can tax imported goods more heavily to make them more expensive.
As explained above, the cow tax is immoral, it doesn’t serve a meaningful purpose. Although 1 SSP is not that big a sum, it is not easy for the cattle keeper to find. For example, if a man has 50 cows, he will then be required to pay 50 SSP a month; where will he get that money?
Of course he will have to sell one of his cows to be able to pay the tax. And if the authorities keep asking for the taxes, the cattle numbers will slowly diminish as there are not many more cows coming in.
By reducing the cattle numbers in the hands of cattle keepers this way, the quality of their lives will also decrease because cows in South Sudan don’t produce much milk like many other cows in the developed world where one cow produces 30 litres of milk a day, hence fewer cows mean even lesser milk for the family to live on.
Is that what a government is supposed to be doing, reducing the livelihood of poor and uneducated citizens who have no other means of income to live on? Where is the moral conscience of the leaders here?
Is this how the SPLM is supposed to pay back the Lakes state cattle keepers?
Mr Daniel Awet, instead of taxing the modest livelihood of the poor, you (SPLM) should be thinking of paying a compensation to the cattle keepers for their outstanding contribution during our struggle for the independence.
Mr Awet, you are better positioned than most of your colleagues to know what the cattle keepers have done throughout the 21 years of struggle. You have collected sheep, goats, grains, cooked food, milk and bulls and many other food items trillion times from the same people.
Cattle keepers were simply the backbone of the struggle, they did not only provide food to the soldiers, but they were also a means of transporting munitions and weaponry.
However, from 2005, like all cattle keepers across the country, no leader even bothered to acknowledge them and what they contributed for South Sudan to gain her independence.
Agok Takpiny is a concern South Sudanese citizen in Melbourne Australia, he can be reach at his email: firstname.lastname@example.org