COMMENT

Avoid the tax revolt temptation

Douglas Gibson says Mmusi Maimane was right to distance the DA from Helen Zille's controversial tweet

Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Opposition, has made it clear that he does not support the idea of a tax revolt. His advice to voters is to vote for his party, the DA, to ensure that the crooks, the looters and the criminals in the government are charged and if found guilty after a fair trial, jailed for their crimes against the people of South Africa. Remember that it is the poor who are the main victims of the corruption that has consumed billions that could have been used for social purposes.

Maimane was responding to yet another controversial Tweet from Helen Zille, former leader of the DA and outgoing premier of the Western Cape. Zille enjoys the limelight and adores being at the centre of the social media uproar that inevitably follows her latest Tweet. It may safely be predicted that when she retires as premier at the time of the election she certainly will not retire from controversy. She is a South African original and the public – and the DA – might just as well get used to the idea that she will not keep quiet and devote herself to knitting for her grandchild. She will say what she likes, whether it is DA policy or not. She will remain interesting and provocative, liking nothing more than a hundred or five hundred abusive responses.

To be fair, the tax revolt Tweet made it clear that if the corrupt do not go to jail, she will lead a taxpayers’ revolt. She has not called for that now. ANC hysteria, talking about charging her with treason, is so much electioneering by a party that is heading for another WCape defeat at the hands of the DA. Zille is backing Alan Winde for the premier’s seat and is certainly not wanting to hand back the province with the best provincial government to the very people who made such a mess there the last time they were in power.

The idea of a tax revolt is a popular and populist response among wealthier people. Many people hate paying income tax and would love to get out of it, especially if it continues being demonstrated that the government squanders the peoples’ money and that people in government at every level corruptly enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the taxpayer.

It must be understood that VAT is paid by everyone. Company tax is paid by all companies that make a profit (and do not conceal it in creative, ie criminal ways). It is difficult to see business generally going over to a tax revolt. The SARS legislation is just too draconian to make it a proposition. Income tax is of course paid by only a fraction of our people but anyone who withheld tax would run the serious risk of the money simply being removed from their bank account, as well as racking up enormous penalties. SARS is not SANRAL. SANRAL has never been able to assert its authority and make everyone pay e-tolls. SARS has the full power of the law behind it and in any event, most taxpayers have large chunks of their income deducted at source and paid to SARS.

Those cheering Helen’s tax revolt will in all likelihood stand back and let her set the example of non-payment as well as meeting the penalties that will surely follow. The serious part of the revolt will be that many will be tempted to try to get away with failing to declare income and falsify figures. Even worse, some may revolt against government corruption by packing up and leaving the country, taking with them their education, their tax-paying potential, their skills and the jobs that will be lost because of their departure. Those are the people we can least afford to lose and the government must not stop with the multitude of enquiries. All decent people want to see the crooks pay the price. We want to see them and not Helen in jail for her “treason” in suggesting a tax revolt.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand.