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Insight: Brevities on mp privileges and small business

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On the front page of The Daily Times dated June1, 2016 there was a heading “MPs abuse privilege”. Below was startling news that some members of parliament abuse the privilege that parliament grants them to import vehicles duty free by importing vehicles duty free on behalf of other people. This practice is said to have existed since the 1990s.

This is perfidious practice to the highest degree. The government has lost billions of kwachas in customs duties and billions of foreign reserves which could have been used to import capital goods for investment and necessary goods in place of luxury vehicles.

The Commissioner General of the Malawi Revenue Authority Tony Grey Malata deserves plaudite for bringing the abuse to the attention of the Speaker of Parliament. This abuse should have been reported earlier by someone in the MRA.The culture of concealing malpractices was behind the cashgate scandal.

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It would be practicable to try and trace those who have been engaging in this malpractice. Apparently it started with the advent of multi-party politics. Since so many people have been abusing the freedoms that the new political dispensation brought us what should be done is to close the loopholes as follows.

First the privilege of importing vehicles duty free by Members of Parliament should be reviewed and its raison d’etre re-assesed. Why should a member of parliament enjoy such privilege and not a doctor, a lawyer, professor? Is an MP who serves a small constituency more important than a district commissioner who serves the whole district?

Privileges are usually expensive and undemocratic. Their existence in France contributed to the 1789 Revolution. At that time people in France were grouped into estates. The First Estate was made of senior members of the Catholic Church, the second estate was made up of nobles while the third estate consisted of the rest such as lawyers, doctors, labourers and so on. Members of the first and second estates enjoyed privileges like not paying taxes while members of the third estate who were producing the wealth of the country were burdened with a variety of taxes. Hence the Revolutionary call; liberty, equality fraternity.

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It is an open secret that while members of the governing party and the opposition may differ sharply on most issues that are raised in parliament they easily agree when someone proposes hiking their salaries, perks and other privileges. To say that an MP who gets a commission of five million kwacha for importing a vehicle duty free for a third party to doing so in order to survive is ridiculous. The people who in Malawi are constantly faced with possible death are those visited by floods, vendors, peasant and those who are said to survive on one dollar a day.

These are times of austerity for all members of society. Excessive privileges wherever they exist should be withdrawn. The MRA should collect duties on all goods imported for the exclusive benefit of the wealthy. Higher taxes should be imposed on luxury goods.

Small and medium enterprises do not constitute a hallowed fraternity. In business it is those men and women who head the big companies, the conglomerate with titles like General Manager or Chief Executive who are treated with due respect. After all each organization employs hundreds of people.

Yet the small and medium enterprises do deserve if not respect at least sympathy and assistance. In every country political leaders are much concerned with job creation. The surest way to raise living standards of the people is to give them jobs. All over the world it has been proved that small and medium business people create more jobs than big companies combined. A small business person may own a retail in which he has hired one or two assistants; a minibus owner may employ a driver and a conductor, a private school proprietor may employ five or ten teachers. When you take stock of these people you find they are million and have employed several millions of assistants. This is worthy contribution to the employment situation.

These small people need the assistance of the Ministry of Trade and Industry when it comes to paying of annual licences or rents. Often they receive two or more letters at the same time to pay and are threatened with closure of their business if they do not pay within a month. This causes headache because the demands are made at the same time with threats by several organizations.

The economic situation in Malawi at present is such that small businesses hardly make brisk sales. Those who make such demand such as city council should specify in their letters that invoice can be settled by so many installments bearing in mind that the same person is receiving pressure from the landlord, the post office etc. The Ministry of Trade should acquaint itself with those matters and protect the small business person.

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