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City Council: stepping out on the wrong foot

City Council: stepping out on the wrong foot

The Freetown City Council has just announced the commencement of their annual local tax collection season for 2011.

In recent years, this period of tax collection was characterized by street battles and other forms of physical confrontation between the tax collectors and the tax paying public. These street battles always proved counter-productive; as the exercise never provided a smooth ground or clear incentive for city dwellers to pay their tax.

The fact of the matter is that over the years tax payers insisted that city council has not been utilizing their tax monies appropriately and judiciously. City Council, they maintained, has failed to put in place clear-cut strategies in their tax collection drive, but has instead relied on brute force to force people to pay their tax.

We agree that it is the civic responsibility of every tax paying citizen to honour his or her tax obligation as taxes form the bedrock of a nation’s development agenda. We also acknowledge the fact that many people all over the world, not just in Sierra Leone, are known to have and continue to devise ways and means to evade tax. It’s a global phenomenon!

However, we at Sierra Express Media do condemn in the strongest terms council’s crude method of collecting local tax from the public. Harassing or humiliating members of the people in the name of revenue generation is against the ethics of tax collection in this 21st century.

We therefore strongly deplore the practice whereby council police indiscriminately arrest people especially women, handcuff them and throw them into waiting trucks as if they were common criminals.

Any brutal attempt to force people to pay their tax impinges on their human rights and human dignity.

In the same vein, we encourage every well-meaning citizen to pay his or her tax and not allow themselves to be forced to do so.

Equally so, City Council should be able to convince the people that their tax monies were being judiciously utilized by providing tangible evidence on the ground. The people should see the physical and material product of their taxes. Excuses on the part of council will not help situation. Where doubts or misgivings exist in the minds of the tax payer, the collection of such tax becomes a challenging exercise.

The point must be emphasized here that council lacks the expertise to generate revenue; that is why council has to rely on barbaric methods to collect their taxes. This must stop!

Thus, given past experiences, our prediction is that the 2011 tax collection by council is even going to be more confrontational with their new institutional revenue generating scheme which now requires people accessing certain public facilities to produce their tax receipts.

For instance, council is now saying before a citizen is issued a national ID card such a person must first produce a local tax receipt.

We find this new development most unacceptable and illegal. We are sure many people will resist it. Council has no mandate to impose any law on the people of this municipality without the due process of the law.

People should left free to obtain their national identification documents or any other public service without any strings attached. Allowing city council to collect local tax using the ID card secretariat would only be mounting more pressure on the secretariat thereby creating tension in the municipality. This undermines the peace and stability prevailing in the capital

We must not allow council to step out on their tax collection exercise on the wrong foot. It will be a recipe for violent conflict. We don’t pray for it, but we predict it if council is allowed to do so.

A word for the wise is sufficient.

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