THE PARADOX OF YOUR STRUGGLE (TAXATION)
It’s indeed unfortunate that our generation dwells in the Gambia which is of little difference to The British colonial government in the 19th century in light of taxation. History has it for us that you never wished to rest until Gambians were adequately informed about the unfair taxation imposed on them and how the how British settlers avoided the payment of tax and to some extent, some chiefs in the protectorate as well. It was your relentless efforts to ensure that the unfair taxation on Gambians without proper representation was no more a feature of the governance system at the time.
In lieu of this phenomenon, Edward Francis Small, as we continue to live with your ever-existing spirit, it’s indeed heart-touching to let you know that if you were to wake up from your grave today and join us in our present-day Gambia, it will appear to you as if you had never existed to fight against the ills of unfair taxation. It is true that taxpayers are represented at wards, constituencies, and national levels of the governance system but there exists a paradox in the representation. Those who vow to be the taxpayers’ mouths, eyes, and ears hardly bargain in the interest of the taxpayers.
What becomes their prime agenda as soon as they are selected, elected, or appointed as the taxpayers’ representatives are to device ways how to circumvent the system for the benefit of a few and fulfill their selfish desire, complete their personal pending projects and start new ones.
Moreover, from the first to the second regime (first to third government), The Gambian citizens have been living at the mercy of certain taxes that are unbearable to the poor majority and owners of small-scale businesses. Accordingly, the main concern of taxpayers in The Gambia is what we get in return either directly or indirectly for the taxes we pay in form of public services.
In this view, taxation and the provision of public goods and social services are interpreted as a contractual relationship between taxpayers and the government. We pay taxes because we want the government to provide services that will better our lives as citizens, recognizing the fact that payment of tax is necessary to help the government finance public services and implement other development projects. Sir, you fought against the tax system in the 19th century.
We still hold to your doctrine that taxation requires that citizens and businesses receive something valuable from the government in return for the extraction the government takes from the citizens.
Writing with honesty and sadness, be informed that in the present-day Gambia, taxation makes the poor majority persistently live in tears and traps the small-scale businesses into stagnation. The government (from independence to date) has had a very weak performance in service provision for the taxpayers. After regularly paying taxes, many citizens die from curable diseases as a result of inadequate or less-equipped health facilities.
Accessing high school and university education seems almost impossible for the majority of Gambian taxpayers or children of taxpayers. The saddest of all is still having numerous communities in the 21st century Gambia who find it so challenging to access clean drinkable water and the government is bold enough to regularly collect their yard taxes or mount penalties on defaulters.
In addition, taxpayers in the business sector face the most unfair treatment through the regional area councils or municipalities. Revenue collectors collect daily payments from shop owners and vendors in our markets but the question is where the collected revenue goes which should have been ploughed back into the markets for the improvement of the infrastructures and better conditions for those who work within. The story remains the market structures are dilapidated leaving the vendors (taxpayers) exposed to pollution in form of sewage and refuse.
Our tax collectors remain totally dishonest to the taxpayers. Sir, it’s in our country where a taxpayer can pay tax without a receipt being issued or one receipt being used multiple times. There is little or no transparency and accountability in the taxation process in The Gambia you die poor. The government pays less attention to the taxpayers’ needs in due process.
Contrary to your efforts in Ballanghar and Kaur, farmers are not supported and still face exploitation in selling their farm products. The price for groundnut is still determined by an external force and not the farmers. Sadly, many farmers cannot afford the cost of a bag of fertilizer due to the exorbitant price attached. Sir, I cannot discuss this without reflecting on our natural resources.
As we live in a globalized world, most of our natural resources are manned by foreign investors. The concerned companies pay a certain amount of tax to the government but sometimes through corruption, these companies enjoy the privilege of paying less than the required amount of tax money. They run into our country to enjoy tax evasion and tax heaven. Still on this, the revenue generated from this is never ploughed back into the society or citizens’ welfare accordingly.
Sir, in reference to your agitation, we are with strong conviction that taxation is still perceived as an unjust relationship between the government and the citizens as taxpayers are still not satisfied with what they get from the government in return for their taxes paid and the nature in which they are represented by their elected representatives.
Taxation in The Gambia still bears some features of looting from the poor to enrich a few. Therefore, your call for “No taxation without representation” remains a valid call in the present-day Gambia. As your spirit of nationalism continues its life with us, rest in peace.
The author Ebou Njie is a teacher by profession. He is currently teaching at Farafenni Senior Secondary School. He studied English Language, and Physical and Health Education (PHE) at the Gambia College and Development Studies at the University of The Gambia.
Mr. Njie is a youth leader and activist. He serves as Secretary of Numukunda Youth Development Association, Secretary of Sabach Sanjal Football Committee, and Assistant Chairperson of Sabach Sanjal Sports Committee.