Peters are fed up with Pauls
PRAVIN Gordhan used to be the Receiver of Revenue, but nobody's perfect and we should all let bygones be bygones.
These days Gordhan has to contend with officials who too often treat the national fiscus like a communal piggy bank to be shared by themselves and their nearest and dearest.
This Sunday we were treated to the tawdry story of a communications minister whose boyfriend or ex-boyfriend allegedly paid himself millions of rands to organise a conference which his ministerial lady friend's department had sponsored. It was all too tacky for words but hardly unfamiliar, reminding one of the minister who charged us R32 000 for a chauffeur-driven limo to the Swiss chookie where his girlfriend is doing time for smuggling drugs.
Halfway through the year some government schools were still without textbooks while staff of an MEC were buying an expensive painting for his office on an official credit card - at a takeaway joint.
In our post-apartheid utopia, tenders are handed out willy-nilly to cronies and most provinces and municipalities are as short of competent political leadership as their office bearers are long on self-importance and BMWs.
This is why Gordhan's pronouncements were so refreshing, and, I would have thought, deserving of front-page banner headlines. In case you missed it, Gordhan went on the record as saying, more or less, that taxpayers were getting fed up being fleeced by the public sector; that taxpayers weren't seeing value for their money.
According to George Bernard Shaw, a government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always rely on the support of Paul. This applies even when there are many more Pauls than there are Peters.
I found a story written by one Paul (funny that) Joubert from Solidarity examining the widely held belief that we have five million taxpayers (Peters) out of a population of 50 million Pauls.
Belief in the famous five holds because that is how many individual taxpayers were registered a few years ago. In fact, the number has since gone up to almost six million. But last year only 4.7 million had to submit tax returns - in other words were actually paying tax. Take out the bottom 1.2 million who pay a measly 3% of income tax and, whittling away other rats-and-mice taxpayers, Joubert arrived at the figure of 2.1 million individuals who pay 82% of income tax. These are the same individuals who are the ultimate payers of most of the company tax and a lot of the VAT.
Paying taxes is a grudge purchase but most of us Peters take great pride in the fact that the dosh we keep handing over pays for schools, roads, pensions and hospitals. So when we hear about teachers who won't teach and nurses who won't nurse we're entitled to feel a bit grumpy; we reckon we're not getting any bang for our buck.
When I see an expensive full-page Seda advert in the Sunday Times paid for with my taxes and that is supposed to be celebrating the glories of entrepreneurship but looks like it was designed by a poorly skilled dimwit using Clip Art and photos taken with her cellphone, I want to tear my hair out.
Our government can keep stealing and wasting our hard-earned tax money because, between them, the Peters can only muster two million or so votes. The Pauls, on the other hand, are where the votes - and the power - lie. So the nobs keep frittering away money that could and should be used to build the kind of society we all want.
This government is patently failing to give us any kind of reasonable return on our investment. All the Peters know it but when one of them, like Reuel Khoza, has the temerity to stick his head above the parapet and question what is going on, he is howled down and publicly derided by a chorus of indignant, scornful, self-important politicians.
By saying what he said, though, Gordhan acknowledged that the Peters are getting tired of paying for a government that thinks we're all stupid, that is failing abjectly to build a society and an economy that can grow so that every adult becomes a Peter and not a Paul. It was a refreshing, rare, acknowledgement of stakeholder interest.
This Peter for one has lost whatever smidgen of faith it might once have had in the current lame-duck Zuma government. I want another one please, preferably one with plenty of Gordhans in it.