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Clearing confusion over daily income assessment

The business community’s grievance over the fairness of the daily income assessment has been mounting ever since it came into effect some weeks ago leading to the lodging of a slew of complaints to the tax authorities. Some traders in the capital Addis Ababa and other cities even shut up shop in protest. The alarm and bewilderment with which the daily income assessment was received by many exposed the limitations of the tax system, the inconsistency of the assessors as well as the existence of poor oversight capacity. Failure to respond promptly to the complaints of those affected and conduct an effective awareness creation campaign prior to rolling out the implementation of the assessment also contributed to the rise of the confusion.

Like any other citizens the subjects of the daily income assessment, who are mostly low income earners, have the obligation to pay their fair share of tax. However, the inconsistency that marred the work of the assessors whereby some erroneously arrived at exaggerated figures and others were induced to come up with wildly varying assessments for traders in the same line of business naturally engendered confusion and disgruntlement in hardworking folks who have difficulty in making ends meet. The problem could have been avoided had the tax authorities clearly explained to the stakeholders the purpose of the assessment and the level of additional tax burden, if any, it entailed.

The inability to provide appropriate responses to the thousands of grievances concerning the daily income assessment has prompted the closure of business premises in a sign of the harboring of ill will towards the government and the erosion of public trust in it. Given that small-scale traders who pay tax on the basis of daily income and have no inkling about how the tax they are required to pay is assessed were not properly oriented on the assessment, they were jolted when they were simply informed of the figure determined to be their daily income without clarifying how tax they were expected to pay as a result. The government owes the duty to enable these sections of the public to extricate themselves from subsistence living they lead and become model taxpayers. It is imperative to eliminate any impediment that stands in the way of this goal including the removal of irresponsible public servants no matter regardless of the office they hold. This also serves to demonstrate that no one is immune from being held to account for failure in his duties.

The outburst last year of the long-running public discontent that threatened to destabilize Ethiopia was partly attributable to the opacity in which the government conducted its affairs. The government has time and again acknowledged the prevalence of bad governance, miscarriage of justice and rampant corruption in the country. Following the return to relative political stability in the aftermath of deadly protests in which hundreds died and property worth billions was destroyed, the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) embarked on a “deep renewal” exercise which saw thousands of low-level officials get the axe. The protests are stark reminders of the perils of dragging one’s feet in responding to citizens’ legitimate criticisms against the government. The strife that landed Ethiopia in the state of emergency it finds itself in must be prevented from recurring at all costs. This calls for each and every government agency to carry out its duties in accordance with the principles of transparency and accountability as enshrined in the constitution.

The fairness of the tax administration system is animportant indicator of the reign of the rule of law and would constitute proof that the equality provision of the constitution is indeed being respected. Obviously it’s up to the government to ensure that the tax administration system is fair. The biggest share of tax is collected from employees working in both the public and private sectors. By comparison the business community’s contribution to the tax coffer is far smaller. Efforts to assure the fairness of tax obligations are bound to difficult and met with stiff resistance. In view of this tax offices need to have a modern organizational structure, make use of the up-to-date technologies, recruit a well-paid workforce and adopt an operating manual that is capable of responding quickly to changing circumstances. Moreover, it is of the essence to see to it that the governance of the tax administration system is characterized by transparency and accountability in order that it truly is fair and credible in the eyes of the public. One of the glaring shortcomingswhich attended the announcement of the daily income assessment was the authorities’ negligent omission in terms of providing clarifications as to the hike in tax bill the assessment would lead to. This is actually what prompted the confusion and jitters within the business community.

As we always say the nation and its people must not suffer due to the chaotic or misguided implementation of laws and policies. Law-abiding citizens and offenders should not be treated similarly. Tax assessors and the taxpayers they assess can duly discharge their responsibilities insofar as the rule of law is upheld. Committing a crime with a view to unduly amass wealth disillusions the victim—the public at large— and thereby incite it to violence. If the government is unable to promptly bring the violence under control, it will give elements with sinister motives the opening they crave to strike at the foundations of the country. This is precisely it is vitally important for the government to listen to the public’s grievances and address them with alacrity. Citizens should be able to have confidence in the rule of law. The confusion over the daily income assessment must be cleared up immediately!