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risk job

A new, dangerous
job in Mogadishu:
tax collector
By Abdi Guled
Monday, July 29, 2013
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP)
— The Somali traders in
Mogadishu’s markets have
long faced down Islamist
rebels and warlords
demanding money. Now
they say there is a new
predator: the government
tax man.
Militias extorted cash from
civilians during much of
the last two decades of
chaos. Now Mogadishu has
a government in place, but
shopkeepers view the
taxman as the latest in a
long line of troublemakers.
That makes tax collection
one of the riskier jobs in
Mogadishu: Five tax
collectors have been killed
so far this year, following
the killings of 10 last year,
according to the director of
Mogadishu’s municipal
council, Abdullahi Artan.
“In some places, if you go
without security escorts
you’re going to take risks,”
said Ali Haji, a tax
collector. “Some of my
colleagues were killed
because of their work.
Very many people don’t
like our work.”
The idea of paying taxes
for social services seems
outlandish in a nation
where few have seen
functioning hospitals or
schools. But if the Somali
government is ever to
wean itself off foreign aid
and provide social services
to its people, the taxman
will have to persuade
business leaders to pay
their part.
On a recent day in
Mogadishu’s Hamarweyne
market, the taxman was
having a tough time.
Sweating while carrying a
plastic bag for cash
deposits, he asked one
shopkeeper after another
to pay up. Many ignored
him. But a soldier
escorting the tax man
threatened an immediate
closure of the business if
the tax was not paid.
“I haven’t earned any
money since I came here
in the morning, so I can’t
pay,” one woman
murmured as the tax
collector walked away. Few
willingly paid.
Between 2006 and 2011,
Mogadishu was controlled
by the Islamic extremist
group al-Shabab, and
business owners were
forced to play by the
rebels’ tax rules. Following
al-Shabab’s ouster in
August 2011, a fragile
peace has fallen over the
city, allowing new
construction and business
opportunities. Government
tax collectors began work
for the first time as tax
evasion remains high.
“They consider me to be a
bandit. They don’t want to
get taxed,” said Mohamed
Nor, another tax collector
for Mogadishu’s municipal
government, as he stacked
bundles of money into a
black plastic bag. Because
it takes 2 million Somali
shillings to equal $100, tax
collectors have to carry
around large bundles of
bills. “Some are willing to
pay, but you still have
lawless lovers rejecting to
pay it.”
One obstacle tax collectors
face is philosophical: If it’s
an established fact that
government leaders in
Somalia steal tax money,
why should citizens pay?
A report this month by the
United Nations Monitoring
Group on Somalia and
Eritrea said that 80 percent
of withdrawals from
Somalia’s Central Bank are
made for private purposes,
indicating it is operating
as a patronage system for
members of government. It
said that of $16.9 million
transferred to the Central
Bank last year, $12 million
could not be accounted for.
“They just collect money
that ends up in their
pockets,” said Sahra Farah,
a fuel trader, while looking
at a taxman leaving the
market.
The daily tax collections
are not assessed based on
a percentage of sales, but
are merely payments
toward an annual $135
business permit. That
comes to about 25 cents a
day, though traders say
that price can rise to 40
cents a day, depending on
how corrupt a given tax
collector may be.
“The amount you pay
depends on the tax
collector of the day,”
Mohamed Abukar said at
his shop in Mogadishu.
“Some shops pay fixed
annual money, but some
pay on daily basis. There’s
no proper regulation.”
Artan, the director of the
municipal council, said
that some business owners
buy forged business
licenses to avoid paying
the yearly $135 fee.
“Taxing is really
challenging here because
some people don’t want
law and order,” Artan
said.
The U.N. report this month
looked at many of the
ways progress in Somalia
is held back by corruption,
which the report said is
“embedded in all layers of
society.” Large-scale theft
of government funds takes
place at the Central Bank
and Mogadishu’s port. The
country’s nascent oil
sector is at risk of
corruption woes.
Corruption is so pervasive
that it will be difficult to
stop, said Abdi Aynte, the
director of a Mogadishu
think tank called The
Heritage Institute for
Policy Studies. He said the
government must institute
an anti-corruption
commission that has
powers to investigate and
must enact policies that
encourage transparency
and accountability.
“Corruption has become
corrosive and part of the
culture in this country,”
Aynte said. “Citizens are
unable to receive
government services and
even private services
without bribing someone.”
Associated Press reporter
Jason Straziuso
contributed to this report
from Nairobi, Kenya.

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