They said people would take to the streets because parliamentary elections would be cancelled. “We are a democracy,” they said, “people won’t let that happen.” But people did let elections be cancelled, twice.
They said people would not let the garbage crisis go without a fight. “People may not care about democracy and holding politicians accountable,” they said, “but this is about garbage and their health.” But people also gave up, protesters couldn’t keep the demonstrations together, and the garbage crisis continued and a sustainable solution has yet to be found.
Then they said people would turn a blind eye to anything, except when it comes to their money. “When the government digs deep into people’s pockets,” they said, “when the government imposes taxes, while giving practically nothing in return, people will not let it pass.” Should I just say it now, that people will also let this pass, yet again, and allow the government to raise taxes… or should I wait and see what will really happen this time?
Yesterday, Lebanon’s parliament agreed on over 20 taxes, under the pretext that they are the only way to cover the so-called salary scale. As many have already argued, the salary scale doesn’t need more taxes to be funded, if tax evasion, public financial waste and corruption in the public sector are fought, this alone could finance the salary scale.
Still, let’s suppose taxes are necessary for the salary scale and for increased government expenditures. Some of the proposed taxes should be welcomed, including the one on works on public sea property, corporate tax and capital gains. And if you are complaining how increasing corporate tax can be a good thing (taxing companies that are barely surviving in Lebanon), just remember how a certain warlord politician from the Chouf (that shall not be named now), once publicly (yes, publicly) confessed that he had two balance sheets for his numerous businesses: one for the company, another for the tax authorities, to evade his taxes…so please stop complaining. Let the government improve tax collection and then you can argue all you want about corporate tax.
As for the rest of the proposed taxes, they are utterly despicable. They’re imposed because they’re easy to collect (e.g. VAT, tax on bank deposit interest, telecom bills, departure tax), aimed at the softest of targets – regular citizens – who cannot but pay their taxes to live and survive. The government may be willing to finally increase the salary scale with one hand, but not without imposing a basket of taxes that most of these same people (as well as the rest of the poorest and middle class) will be disproportionally affected by with the other hand, without any shame whatsoever.
For example, in the new basket of taxes, there are no increases in direct taxes: instead the government raises indirect VAT tax (from 10% to 11%), thus affecting the poor disproportionally more than it affects the wealthy. Direct taxes, most notably income tax, shouldn’t only be increased but made truly progressive, so that the more you earn, the more you pay taxes. “Tax the poor,” they said, “they won’t nor can escape it. The wealthy (including most politicians) can, and will, like they always have.”
In the new basket of taxes, there are also no increases on taxes affecting commercial banks, a sector that has made astronomical profits for years on end, without being properly taxed except by the risk it takes by holding most of the government’s debt. The only tax imposed related to banks is the one on interests on deposits (raised from 5% to 7%), which affects regular depositors and not banks themselves or their profits. This also disregards the unknown amount of profits, which should be taxed, made by the highly questionable financial engineering scheme orchestrated by the Banque du Liban last year.
Finally, there are of course no plans in sight to fight corruption, and no plans to fight tax evasion, and no plans to improve tax collection. I have no figures, nor would I believe anyone in the republic that claims to have exact numbers, because there aren’t any. However, I am sure you would agree that all of these measures would amount in the billions of dollars, enough to finance a salary scale and much more. But corruption is run by those in government, and tax evaders are either in the government or protected by those in government or the wealthy and powerful, while those with the will to improve tax collection will fear for their lives before they even think of approaching the criminals. This is why the taxes that were agreed upon were agreed upon, they’re nice, they’re easy, targeting primarily the vulnerable or at least those who have no choice but to pay, who can’t be protected if they don’t, and those who are too scared to fight.
#civildisobedience: I don’t want to pay for more corruption and theft.
#notaxationwithoutrepresentation: this illegal and unconstitutional parliament doesn’t represent me. Why are they imposing taxes on me, who didn’t vote for them because elections were cancelled?
#enough: I am tired of fighting warlords, criminals, thieves, wealthy monsters who steal but never get enough… but I will not be silenced.
I am not sure if this will be what pushes the Lebanese to finally stand up, not only for their rights and for their money, but also for their dignity. Why does someone run behind a thief that steals your bag, which contains nothing but a couple of trivial items, but not fight against a government that would steal that bag from you every single day, with every item you buy, every meal you have, everything, everyday and give you almost NOTHING in return?
I am no longer very hopeful, but I will wait and see before I give my final judgment on a nation and people who has lost too many opportunities to make things right, to stand up for its rights and refuse to be humiliated.
So, TAX ME on my words if you want, oh corrupt parliament, ARREST ME for standing against you, IMPRISON ME for screaming at you and saying you are criminal…but know that I am not alone.