Good citizenship and taxes
1 July marked the beginning of the single largest annual engagement between citizens and the South African state- Tax Season! Last year over 5 ½ million tax returns were submitted; but in fact everyone in the population of 48 million pays taxes – every time you buy something which has VAT, every time you drink alcohol or smoke, and every time you travel even if it is not your own vehicle.
There are two significant responsibilities of adults in a country: the first is to pay taxes, the second is to be critical about how those taxes are spent.
Personal taxes are the major part of the government’s income, which it uses to build roads and houses, to run the heath care, electricity and police systems, to fund schools, technicons and universities, and much more besides. Without taxes, our complex society could not exist.
However, we cannot be naive about the joys of paying taxes. Whilst it is elected officials who oversee how tax money is spent, it is we, the ordinary people, who make up the state. We elect our government, and we are therefore also to some extent responsible for its decisions, especially its decisions about money.
Our two primary ways of interacting with the good governance of the state are through voting and paying taxes. In fighting for the right to vote, we were fighting for the right to be able to determine our own country’s future. Since money is what makes government possible, the right to decide what taxes are raised is also one of the rights we achieved in the new South Africa. And with that right comes the right to determine how our taxes are spent.
We have the right to transparency from government; the right to be informed about the decisions taken about our money; the right to challenge government about what they spend. These rights are part of our hard-won struggle for freedom. Our freedom has cost so much, we cannot now sit back and surrender responsibility for it.
As adult citizens we must be actively engaged in the welfare of our state. Just as it is important to register and pay taxes, so it is also important to register and vote. And it is important to voice our concerns when we think that government is not spending our money appropriately.
The Church teaches that we must be informed. We as Christians cannot just be passive observers; we are called to be yeast in the dough of our world. We need to read, to listen and to reflect on what our government is doing. We need to ask ourselves: are they acting with integrity? are they acting to benefit the poor? are they caring for the sick and the dying?
Essentially, if we take our faith seriously, then we must look at our communities, our local and national government and ask: are they acting as Jesus would?
We as individuals have a voice. We need to support our leaders in their good works. And we need to challenge them when we feel they are not working for the greater good.