Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Bill of Rights and Voting (Part II)

One ground on which some suggested it is taxpayers who have a right to dissent or demand accountability is that every Kenyan is a taxpayer because every Kenyan, directly and indirectly, pays taxes. Simplistically, this is true. But for pedantic lawyers like yours truly, there is a crucial difference between those who are subject to a tax on their income and the levying of, for example, Value Added Tax on goods and services, what Coldtusker calls "consumption" tax. A taxpayer is any person who is subject to a tax on their income.

A tax on income is not the same as a tax on consumption; both can be avoided, but avoiding the former is an offence. A person can choose to avoid consuming any goods or services against which VAT is levied, which many successfully do by not consuming cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, carbonated soft drinks, pasteurised milk, processed sugars of all sorts, and the like. You will not find the Government hounding them for their tax-avoidance schemes (except when the manner in which they avoid paying VAT is by way of theft; thieves, you see, as they avoid paying the ticket price for the things they steal also, coincidentally, avoid paying VAT.)
 
But woe unto you if you earn an income in Kenya, whether or not you are a Kenyan citizen, and you enter into a scheme to either avoid or evade the tax. The Government will throw the book at you for, in addition to its monopoly on coercive force, the Government guards jealousy its power to levy and collect taxes, including taxes on incomes. The equation is simple: if you earn an income, that income is liable to tax in Kenya.

It is important to understand this because it reminds us that it is not our taxpaying fidelity that gives us the right to dissent or demand accountability; if it were, then those Kenyans who do not earn an income would be unable to dissent or demand accountability even when their rights and fundamental freedoms were affected, adversely or not, by the actions of the Government or its officers.

The exercise of our rights and the enjoyment of our fundamental freedoms as Kenyans is not predicated on whether or not we vote or whether or not we pay our taxes; the exercise of our rights and the enjoyment of our fundamental freedoms is predicated only on the fact that we are citizens of Kenya. Even if I have never paid a shilling in taxes to the Government, it cannot ignore my dissension when it engages in abuses of the rights of fellow citizens or my demands for accountability when its officers make policies or carry out programmes that harm my rights or fundamental freedoms. It is simple really: if you injure me, I have a right to satisfaction under the Constitution or any other written law of Kenya. My right or fundamental freedom is not limited simply because I did not vote at an election or referendum or I did not pay taxes.

What struck me about the declaration that only voters could dissent or demand accountability was how it ignored the history of Kenya, especially the history when Kenya was a single-party "democracy" and every adult Kenyan was a member of the ruling party, KANU, and membership of the ruling party required regular payment of subscription fees and periodic contributions to 'party activities" failure to which almost always led to difficulties accessing public services or goods. Kenyans were coerced to join the ruling party, coerced to pay into its coffers and in return got little in return except the entrenchment of a cabal of tribalistic looters, pederasts, murderers, pimps and whores, determined to aggrandise themselves to Croesus-like wealth while the people of Kenya made do with shambolic public education, fatalistic public healthcare and bullet-dodging as the only reliable public safety strategy.

One of the boosters of only-voters-should-talk has waged a lonely battle arguing for the "positive" aspects of corruption and trying to paint with a really broad brush the picture of being put upon by the likes of David Ndii who keep pointing out that the new emperors of Kenya are butt naked when it comes to corruption and the looting of the national treasury. It should worry Kenyans that a person who wishes to join Parliament, participate in the making of our laws, participate in overseeing the excesses of the executive branches and charged with the onerous duty of investigating and impeaching the seniormost judicial officers has seen fit to support two dangerous and harmful positions: (1) non-voters and non-taxpayers have limited rights and (2) corruption isn't so bad.

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