Benoît Delmas : “Tax evasion, a national sport”
The economic crisis hitting Tunisia requires a drastic remedy. Everyone has to pay their taxes. It won’t be easy. One of the national sports is defrauding the taxman.
An employee may not be able to escape paying tax – it is deducted at source – but the liberal professions have several ways to avoid it. Ignore it. Do a deal with the tax inspector. In short: don’t contribute to the state budget. Without sufficient tax revenue, the government can’t start infrastructure projects, help the unemployed or address the countless demands of the young Tunisian democracy.
If you innocently ask the question “Who pays taxes ?”, everyone laughs. “The bosses collect their employees’ taxes and many ‘forget’ to pay them to the ministry,” confides Béchir, a company boss. For Brahim, a tax officer, “there is no desire to collect the sums due.” The moral being that the state is not seen as a useful entity. With taxes, you can build roads, hospitals, schools. You can recruit teachers, doctors, social workers, soldiers… By refusing to penalise tax evaders, by encouraging baksheesh, by ignoring the very wealthy, the country is denying itself millions of dinars which many regions need.
Since 17th December, when Mohammed Bouazizi killed himself from despair, the situation for the poor hasn’t changed. One year on, there are two Tunisias. Can the members of the Jebali government set it right? Do they want to? A tax amnesty has been declared: those who haven’t filed a tax return won’t be penalised. An incentive for tax evaders?
Illustration: Finance Ministry, Tunis. Flickr/CC BY 2.0/Leandro
Benoît Delmas, 40, is a writer, journalist and the keeper of the blog “Le Western Culturel“. An author of four books (including Bal tragique chez Vivendi published by Denoël and La Forteresse Endemol published by Flammarion), he was a publisher at Fayard before joining the Nouvel Economiste to head the Media page for seven years.
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