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Playing hide and seek with the taxman

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money sxc

sxc.hu

Right now, I have no idea who I bank with or how many accounts I may have.

South Africans are fascinated by race. On meeting me for the first time people ask, “What are you? Are you coloured? Portuguese? Arab? Indian?”

And I tend to reply, “I’m part Indian, the part of me that doesn’t like to pay tax.”

I was born half Indian and half Cape Malay, but I am told there’s some Dutch lineage in the mix too.

I sometimes picture the scene of my Dutch ancestors sailing into Table Bay after an epic six-month cruise, randy as hell. The captain stands before the crew and says, with a wild look in his eyes, “Remember, boys, what happens in the Cape stays in the Cape.”

Anyway, going back to Indians and taxes, being half Indian there were always sharp-shooting, big-talking business-type “uncles” around, and whenever they got together at family functions they would complain about how the government was screwing them over and how they didn’t see the value in paying taxes.

On occasion they would come together on poker night and devise a way of screwing the government back.

I also heard about a tradition in Durban’s Grey Street merchant district and other places up north like Laudium, where businessmen much like my uncles made tax-evasion an art form.

They would have regular strategy meetings with their accountants and find every tax law loophole imaginable, or in some cases ways not to pay. It goes without saying that what they did was hardly legal.

I am by no means saying that Indians invented tax evasion; nor am I saying that they were the only people doing it.

What I am saying is that Indians are naturally gifted with numbers and in business, the same way south-east Asians are good at shooting rhinos or the Afghans excel at making heroin. These are things that just happen to be largely (but not always) true.

It just so happens that some Indians chose to use those natural talents in an illegal fashion. But those were the old days.

These days it’s a lot harder to dodge tax, and Indian businessmen are just as compliant as anybody else.

My Uncle Mo, however, refuses to surrender. He makes a ton of money but constantly has to hide his cash and the stuff he buys. Every time I talk to him he is moving assets to other people’s names – his wife’s, his kids’ – and he never gets to enjoy the fruits of his success in the textile business.

He drives around in a beat-up Toyota Corolla, afraid SARS agents will kick down his door if he buys a new car.

He is so scared of the taxman that I remember seeing him freak out while playing Monopoly one day. It was his turn to play. He threw the dice and they gave him a number that would’ve allowed him to pass “Go” and collect R200. But instead of moving his token, he sat motionless.

“Uncle Mo, play, it’s your turn!” I said. “You have to pass Go.”

“I can’t,” Uncle Mo replied. “SARS is watching me.”

Isn’t it amazing how efficient SARS is? You’d swear it’s not a government-run organisation.

They’re so polite and efficient when you go to see them that you almost want to give your money to them.

Yet every other department is riddled with corruption and gross inefficiency. How about the government giving us taxpayers a break and putting the people who run Home Affairs in charge of tax collection?

I think the powers realised that if SARS was run like every other government department – by inefficient, lazy sods – no money would be collected to embezzle or buy luxury SUVs.

I can’t help but remember Uncle Mo’s famous words. “Why should I pay tax? What do I get out of it? You expect me to give away my hard-earned money so that some politician can steal it?”

He had a point, in a way. What does your tax money get you?

The government can’t guarantee your safety or essential services. It can’t even guarantee that on the way home from work you won’t drive into a giant pothole.

“We can’t fix the roads because we don’t have money,” the government often says.

Bull. The government collects 14 percent of everything bought or sold in this country. Imagine, 14 percent of everything from Chappies to Cadillacs.

Where’s the money going, comrades?

Sometimes I think it’s people contracted by the government who put the potholes in the road in the first place so that taxpayers can pay them to fix the holes. It’s just a theory but a good one.

I drive the same way to and from work every day. On Monday night there was no pothole. Tuesday night there was no pothole. Wednesday morning suddenly… how did it get there overnight?

Recently I was stuck in traffic for 45 minutes due to roadworks.

I had to find out what was going on. So I asked one of the workers, “Hey, what’s going on here, the road was fine yesterday.”

“We’re making a hole,” he replied simply.

The vast majority of South Africans feel ripped off, that I’m sure of.

I am tired of paying for muck-ups by people who won fraudulently awarded tenders. I am tired of paying for the DStv subscriptions of prisoners, for the medical bills of corrupt police chiefs, for business-class flights of Members of Parliament and for the upkeep of the president’s many wives.

But will I take a chance and stop paying tax? No, because the government will come after me with all its might. After all, tax evasion (not paying the instalments on a minister’s Beemer) is far worse than murder. True story. - Sunday Tribune

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