Do Our Elders Know the Implications of Hut Tax?

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In the June 7 edition of this paper, the Daily Observer, we read with total dismay a story from our Nimba County Correspondent, Ishmael Menkor, narrating how 15 chiefs representing the Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia have agreed to the reintroduction of HUT TAX to support the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led Government’s “Pro-poor Agenda.”

According to Menkor, the elders maintained that the hut tax will enhance their participation in the promotion of government’s agenda and development initiatives. They accordingly argued that government cannot be dependent forever, “relying on donor support or begging all around the world for help, so in their view, it is good to bring back the collection of hut tax to back up the economy.”

The chiefs call for the reinstitution of the Hut tax may sound pleasing to the ears of government but it bodes ill for our impoverished rural population eking out an existence at the subsistence level. During the century old regime of the True Whig Party, the ordinary people in the interior, most of who earned virtually no income, were compelled to pay hut tax under oppressive and inhumane conditions.

In those days, soldiers accompanying the tax collector will firstly intimidate the town chief and collect chickens and goats before beginning to collect the hut tax. Anyone who did not have the money to comply with their tax obligation were either tortured or subjected to degrading treatment until either someone paid for him, or credited money to pay. In some cases family members were taken in servitude(pawned) until the money had been paid.

This repressive and humiliating treatment was abolished after the coup of 1980 when the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) repealed the Hut Tax Law. This was one benefit of the PRC that the poor indigenous people considered an achievement at the time. But the consensus reached by the chiefs to reintroduce the Hut Tax raises more questions than answers.

Why? Because to introduce such a tax that will affect the greater proportion of the population, requires deeper thought and more importantly popular participation and consultation to help enable policy makers determine whether it is indeed the right thing to do. Many are of the opinion that the chiefs and elders in attendance at the Ganta meeting would have held the widest possible consultations before announcing such a decision committing poor rural people to making such tax payments to government.

According to the World Food Program’s(WFP) report of 2013-2017, Liberia ranks 182 among 187 countries of the world, with 1.3 million of its citizens living below the poverty line. WFP statistics show that 64% of Liberians live in extreme poverty. So, what yard stick did the elders use to arrive the conclusion that the reinstitution of the Hut tax was in the best interests of their people?

A point the chiefs and elders stressed in support of their call for the reintroduction of the hut tax is that “It will help to achieve the goals of government’s pro-poor agenda. What then will this “Pro-poor” mean to the Liberian people when the very poor are about to be slapped with financial obligations which they can very well ill afford. Strikingly, their call for some of that tax money to remain in their respective counties for development purposes went virtually ignored by the conveners of the meeting.

We know from various audit reports, that government revenue including taxes generated from other resource streams have ended in the pockets of individuals rather than in development projects. Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said a few months ago that Liberia does generate revenue, but much of the money generated goes to salaries, benefits and other inducements of government officials.

In this current government, the President has openly stated that they have more room to absorb people in government. This means that government’s payroll will be stacked with names that will be entitled to salaries and benefits perhaps even more than what it was in the past. In fact, what readily comes to mind is that the chiefs are on Government payroll and given the long history of state coercion and manipulation of chiefs, it is very well possible that the chiefs may have been manipulated in coming up with this recommendation to reintroduce the Hut tax.

We do not believe that impoverished Liberians facing crises with bad roads, a dysfunctional health system and sub-standard education have to pay hut tax before they stand to be counted as participants in the national economy. Moreover, with corruption eating away the fabric of the nation, it is doubtful whether money raised from the reintroduction of the Hut tax would be applied to the purposes intended.

We remain strongly convinced that a curb on corruption to which the country loses millions of dollars every year would yield tangible financial rewards that could far outweigh what the reintroduction of the Hut tax could ever yield.

We hope the Elders Council will carefully examine their statement well, considering the immense but unnecessary burden such would impose on the very poor people whose interests, this government has pledged to pursue and protect under its Pro Poor agenda.

Authors

6 COMMENTS

  1. How could you claim this is a goverment for the less privileged and yet reintroduced hut tax systems? The so called pro poor agenda is begining to show it’s true color. The chiefs just care about what’s in it for them. Welcome to the “pro poor” government. This will definitely turn villagers against the famous “pro poor” government. More burden on the camel than it had before ?

  2. If villages don’t have farm to market roads to bring their produce to town, how will they generate funds to pay the hut tax? Aren’t our people suffering enough when bunch of corrupt and uncaring individuals are being paid $15,000 to $25,000 a month in a country that is that poor? In about a year and a half,it will be 40 years when the “country woman” son took power from the “congor woman” son in order to establish equality. Has life been anywhere near easier for Liberian now than it was since the violent exchange of power took place? Liberian, think on these things.

  3. “We remain strongly convinced that a curb on corruption to which the country loses millions of dollars every year would yield tangible financial rewards that could far outweigh what the reintroduction of the Hut tax could ever yield”. Granted that this suggestion isn’t only a resonating sentiment but also pragmatic, it must not be forgotten that taxation and infrastructural development are compatible and complementary.

    Moreover, taking into account that most hut-owners in rural Liberia can’t afford money to pay hut tax, the gesture of our chiefs is symbolic, cynics would say ‘quixotic’. And thankfully nobody knows that better than President Weah who himself had experienced and witnessed the ravages of life-denying poverty as a teenager. So the hut tax won’t be aggressively enforced because non-payment wouldn’t result in punitive court actions.

    The purpose of our elders’ generosity of spirit though is that they want to contribute their own widow’s mite in order to indentify with road projects which would benefit them. For me, it reinforces the truism that sometimes out of the depths of despair determination emerges disguised as desperation. Building the much needed roads gives hope to our rural population in the various areas, lets not pour ice water on that hope, please!

  4. Meanwhile there’s talk of the Liberian Government authorising a private jet for use by the President (and others in Government too, no doubt) that will cost MILLIONS of USD to both procure, plus run & maintain.

  5. I do believe that there should be a Hut tax. But it should is levied and collected by the local governing authority (town chief) of the jurisdiction in which the property (hut) is located. The taxes collected should NEVER EVER NEVER EVER be given the born rogues in our national government. The money (taxes collected) should remain with the local government (town chief and elders). They should decide how THEIR taxes should work for them!

  6. Yes Hut Tax, Hut Tax, Hut Tax…….. The tactics or method used by the tax collectors those days were inhumane and disrespectful to our elders at the time. I am 60 years old now. As a child I remembered vividly how our elderly fathers who owned huts in my home village in Nimba County were treated by the tax collectors when they could not afford the 4 pounds; I think 4 ponds was equivalent to 4 dollars to per hut. I remembered them tying Yermekputu (foot handcuffs) on the chin of older folks, putting a mixture of cow manure and water on the heads of tax payers who could not afford and making others to look at the sun until they were blinded. This caused some fathers to dowry their daughters not older than 4 to anyone who could afford to pay the hut tax for them. Will the collection tactics be the same in 2020? I don’t think so.

    I am not against hut tax or real estate tax. My concern is about those who the collected money will be given to for projects. Will they use it for the intended purpose? How can everyone in government not be trusted? How can a poor country like Liberia pay a salary of $15,000.00 each month to one individual? What is he or she doing to cost that much? Are these people Liberians? Can’t they see how people are suffering.

    Everyone gives advice to the president. As for me I put part of the blame on Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. When the war was over and she was elected president, she supposed to have appealed to anyone wishing to work for the government to sacrifice; i.e. no one was going to be paid above $5,000.00 so that the money the country generates would be used to recover most of the things we destroyed during the civil crisis. Because this was not done and people started getting these huge salaries, it will continue to make succeeding presidents job harder to cut salaries of government employees and the so called law makers.
    Thank you

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