Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar

If a rat falls into a bag full of dagga (mokotla oa matekoane), when it finally escapes the maze of the dagga leaves, it will come out roaring like a lion.
Even if you place the rat in front of a real lion, in its tiny little mind, it will come out thinking it can swallow the lion. The rat will suffer from delusions because of the dagga.

This is a common problem with us Basotho people and I’m not saying we smoke dagga. This issue of being labelled a sovereign state inflates our egos so much that we constantly live in a state of delusion.

We think and believe that we are up there with the rest of the world. We love to dance to the tune of our own lies. Have you ever heard a person telling you of how much better Maseru is, compared to Bloemfontein? Well, because Pioneer Mall is better as opposed to the Waterfront Mall in Bloem?
What about our national university? We think that it is the best in the world. By the way, have you realised that NUL is ranked number 221 in Africa? Two hundred and twenty-one, according to UniRank (www.4icu.org).

But no, that’s our make-up. We also believe that there’s so much money in Lesotho. A lot of money found in bottomless pits. That’s the reason why our politicians are so careless and mindless in their decision-making because in Lesotho, money grows on trees.

Muckraker gave us some funny truths about Lesotho, in last week’s edition of thepost. The funniest was that Lesotho has been reduced to a district of the Free State Province.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to paint a picture of how small our economy is. Are you aware that there are only two companies, with an annual revenue above M1 billion in Lesotho? M1 billion! Those are Letšeng Diamonds as the largest taxpayer in Lesotho and Vodacom Lesotho in second place (second largest tax-payer).

Not even our biggest bank in Lesotho has an annual revenue of M1 billion. In fact the situation is so bad that total deposits in all commercial banks in Lesotho are in the region of M12.5 billion. Total deposits! Not even US$1 billion. So how did we come to this point?

We all saw the level of chaos that was in town because of the tax-return deadline on the 30th of September. Oh Jesus, I’ve never seen so much stress and chaos. Business people were mostly stressed out by the fact that they didn’t generate any money in 2020 and had to declare something.

On the other hand, accountants were equally stressed by the fact that they had to play around with figures and had to do something with nothing.
I mean it’s a well-known fact that most businesses in Lesotho are NPO’s (non-profit-making organisations). Business people work so hard but for nothing. In most cases, only to be robbed by the Government (Caesar himself).

In Lesotho, Caesar doesn’t pay suppliers and clients on time and leads them to their bankruptcy. This bad habit of government to delay payments to businesses has unfortunately created a vicious circle.
When a business is not paid on time, it cannot meet its obligations of paying salaries, rent and tax on time. That usually has a knock-on effect down-stream and that creates what I call a constipated economy.

Constipated because the economy always looks busy, trucks move up down, Ministers are busy cutting ribbons, business people are busy but when it’s time to show results (toilet visit), nothing comes out. The LRA can only collect an average of M5.5 billion domestically.

The gist of this opinion piece is based on the fact that Lesotho’s domestic tax collection ability is about M5.5 billion/Rands, whilst Botswana is hovering at around M62 billion/Rands. Eswatini (Swaziland) is at around M23 billion/Rands. How did Lesotho get left behind, yet it was way ahead of those two nations about 40 years ago?

There are three possible answers to this question. Either some people (the chosen ones) evade tax. Like George Orwell said in his book named The Animal Farm, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. We all know people that evade tax but we’ll turn a blind eye.
Another explanation could be that our economy suffers from heavy leakages (ke mokotla o lesoba). Or we’re simply lazy and disorganized as a nation.

Why is our economy not generating enough tax revenue? The worrying thing is that the LRA is set to miss the revenue target yet again. I predict a domestic revenue collection of M3 billion this year.
Tax revenue is very important. Everyone is obliged to pay tax in one way or the other, whether in the form of a levy, personal income tax (pay as you earn), value added tax (VAT) and corporate income tax or company tax.

Whether you like it or not, you will pay to Caesar in one form or the other and it won’t be fun. Even Jesus knew this fact, hence his famous words of, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”.
About five years ago, Nigeria slapped MTN with a US$1.5 billion fine. Well, there are many theories surrounding this issue but some analysts claim that the Nigerian government was short of funds because of low tax revenue collections. As a result, it resorted to imposing a hefty fine on MTN, as a way of raising funds.

Whether this is true or not, this had damaging results to the Nigerian business climate. We’ve recently seen a disinvestment of Shoprite out of the Nigerian market. At first, it was Tiger Brands with a deal that went sour with a Dankote-owned company. Then came Woolworths soon after Tiger brands.

All those companies claimed that the Nigerian market was very tough and generally anti-South African. I guess the word should be anti-investment.
Yes, Nigeria is the biggest market in Africa and MTN knew this fact but the hefty fine sent some chilling vibes to the rest of investors. So, who are we to impose a hefty fine to the second biggest taxpayer in Lesotho? In fact, the most reliable tax payer for that matter?

This brings me to another point, a rather funny point. My friend, Jason Mojau, once told me of a very funny story of his childhood days growing up in Ha Hoohlo. Mojau said there was a character named Manoele (Emmanuel). Manoele was always a subject of bullying from the bigger boys in Ha Hoohlo.

The only way Manoele could ever play soccer with other boys was for him to bring his own ball. Often times, he would be left out of the scheme when the players were selected into a team, yet he would be the owner of the ball.
So, sometimes the conditions would be, “hee monna Manoele, u tlise bolo eane ea hao, u bo tlise le bohobe bo tlotsueng ka rama”. Loosely translated into bring your ball for a soccer match and also bring a slice of bread spread with butter.

Sometimes, the conditions would be so ridiculous as in, “hee monaa Manoele, u tlise bolo hosasa. Feela u bo tlise bohobe bo tlotsueng ka jeme”. Of which means, bring your ball for play and on top of it, bring a slice of bread spread with jam. I mean, those were ridiculous conditions to live by but poor Manoele wanted friends to play with.

Unfortunately, this constant bullying of Vodacom Lesotho is setting a very bad precedent that will be a deterrent for future investment. Lesotho may end up being labelled a high-risk area and no investment will come in.
Lesotho is not in any way similar to Nigeria. Lesotho is by far one of the smallest markets in Africa with the smallest GDP in the SADC region.

At the end of the day, beggars cannot be choosers. Look at the stagnation caused to the economy when Chief Leabua got rid of De Beers in the 80’s. Why? Because De Beers was smuggling diamonds? Really? So why did a similar deal work in Botswana?

Lesotho can’t afford to be a beggar and a bully at the same time. Getting rid of Vodacom would kill Lesotho’s economy in a matter of three months.
Kapa re ikhants’a re lapa na? Are we proud beggars?

‘Mako Bohloa

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