By Taona Denhere
This article is a response to Bothwell Riside`s article titled: “Why not introduce diaspora tax, Mr President?”. Riside had argued among other things, that the government of Zimbabwe deserves financial reparations in the form of taxation from its diasporan community. Largely in part for its role in subsidizing and bankrolling the education achievements of skilled diasporan Zimbabweans.
No taxation without representation
The contentious issue of imposing taxes on diasporan nationals is not a uniquely Zimbabwean issue. Matter of factly, it dates back to the 16th century. Accordingly, enforced taxation without parliamentary representation was one of the lightning rods that led to the outbreak of the American revolution and war of independence from Britain in 1700. The thirteen British colonies of America rebelled against the British government on the grounds that they could not continue to pay taxes to London without Parliamentary representation in Westminster.
Therefore, any policy discussion about taxing the diaspora community must not be divorced from granting of diasporan vote. Zimbabweans in the diaspora for the past 15 years have been clamouring, begging and fighting for diasporan suffrage. Thus, a win-win situation would involve the Zanu-PF government offering a carrot of diasporan vote in return for diasporan taxation.
Thus, the diasporan vote would enable the diasporan community to actively participate in the legislative and governmental affairs of their home country. Nonetheless, we have countries like Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and many other African countries, who have unconditionally offered diasporan suffrage to their citizens. That is, its diasporan citizens can actively partake in voting without taxation conditions attached.
However, it would be an utterly ridiculous and retrograde decision in the unlikely event that an ED Mnangagwa government decides to avail a tax-based diasporan vote. This is because over the last 300 years the right to vote has been fought, extended and consolidated as an unqualified right to hitherto disenfranchised communities such as women, the propertyless, the colonised and ethnic minorities.
All that glitters is not gold
The other reason why the diasporan tax is fundamentally morally wrong, is because it would result in double taxation of the Zimbabwean diasporan community. That is, they will find themselves in the untenable position of being taxed by both their host country and home country. This arrangement is clearly extractive and parasitic in nature. However, what should not be overlooked is the fact that the diaspora is not a bed of roses, despite the glamour and glitter of the smooth paved shiny tarmacs and the shiny brightly lights.
Diasporan Zimbabweans across all socioeconomic classes, thus, from professionals, semi-professionals and unskilled, are confronted by their fair share of socioeconomic challenges. Thus, their financial resources are overstretched in meeting living costs related to housing, transport, energy and water bills, food, and childcare. Therefore, it is a fallacy to believe that the diasporan community has a bottomless honeypot that the government of Zimbabwe can readily extract and exploit as a cash cow.
One of the most fundamental reasons why the diasporan community should be exempted from taxation is due to the astronomical financial scale of diasporan remittances. Accordingly, as of 31 July 2020, Zimbabwe recorded a 33 per cent increase in diasporan remittances, which amounted to US$ 446,2 million. Coupled with this is the fact that Zimbabwe is one of the leading recipients of remittances in Africa.
Therefore, the diasporan community are already subsidizing the Zimbabwean economy and playing a significant role in socioeconomic affairs of our country. Remittances are quintessentially one of the important but overlooked Foreign Direct Investment vehicles. World Bank economic studies have even acknowledged that remittances are more effective in person-driven socioeconomic development and poverty alleviation than international lines of credit. This is due to the fact that remittances actually go to the source of their need and address the socioeconomic problem. That is, they are not hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape and bottlenecks that can spawn corruption, which is associated with international lines of credit. This is buttressed by the fact that only 35 per cent of international financial aid reaches its intended target and beneficiaries in the developing world.
Another centrality of Riside`s argument is that the host countries are disproportionately benefiting from the diaspora skillset at the expense of the Zimbabwean government’s sacrificial educational contributions to its citizenry. This is a very misplaced argument that sought to portray that all university educated Zimbabweans are gainfully employed as professionals in the diaspora.
Statistics and experiences from South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia give a very different and depressing reading. Just recently Lindiwe Zulu, the South African Minister of social development on a television interview, testified to the fact that Zimbabwe’s 20-year-old crisis can be evidenced by degreed Zimbabwean teachers eking out a living in the South African underground economy doing menial jobs as domestic servants and car washing. Surely such deproletarianized university educated Zimbabweans do not deserved to be taxed by their home government.
The argument in favour of taxing the diasporan community can be diminished and defeated on the grounds, that the Zimbabwean government, through its diplomatic mission, does not provide safety nets for the diasporan community. Especially, when they struggle with the harsh realities of regularising and legalising their immigration status in their host countries. Thus, individuals in the diaspora accumulate huge legal costs and home office application fees as they regularise their immigration status, coupled with the trauma and stress they undergo in avoiding deportation, confronting racism and xenophobia.
Furthermore, the Zimbabwean government treats the diasporan community with disdain and contempt due to their perceived independent objective political views against its authoritarian excesses. Therefore, a bridge building exercise needs to be undertaken by the government of Zimbabwe in order to win the hearts and minds of the diasporan community.