Betting is a human right, use it for common good instead of imposing ban

I have taken keen interest in the raging debate on social media regarding Government’s intended ban on several gambling platforms.

From the outset, I wish to explore a critical foundational philosophy that in my view ought to inform what can, and cannot be imposed legitimately by Government on individuals who are sovereign.

To advance my view, I wish to largely refer to an article on Liberty by John Stuart Mills, a British philosopher and one of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism. He contributed widely to social theory, political theory and the political economy.

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Mills asserts a very simple principle that I am happy to paraphrase -  that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent him from harming  others.

To take a person’s own good, either physical or moral as a key consideration, is not sufficient ground to warrant curtailment of one’s liberty.

Mills therefore affirms that only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others.

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He argues that where it concerns oneself and his independence, he has absolute right to exercise over himself.

From the foregoing, it becomes abundantly clear that the Government cannot legislate against, or ban gambling under the pretext that in its opinion or that   of some Government officials, such action is intended to protect sovereign citizens from themselves.

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Well thought

In line with the same logic, the government could, for instance, give conditions (as opposed to a total ban) to gaming companies while licensing them to ensure the protection of someone else – in this case, the non- gamer.

For example, the government could limit the overall number of licenced gambling platforms in relation to population.

In addition, the Government may set clear qualification criteria based on valid principles and legislate well thought out and resolute taxation policies.

Moreover, prevailing circumstances in our funding gap as a country in the quest to bring out economic development for the citizenry demands that we explore creative ways of mobilising resources for development.

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Let’s take Universal Healthcare (UHC), which is a big part of the government’s Big 4 agenda as an example.

Today, UHC remains a critical input of tremendous positive impact on Kenyans if indeed we were to achieve a functioning, effective healthcare delivery system.

Such a system would enable ordinary Kenyans to walk into their local medical facility, get treatment and walk out without paying out of their pockets at the point of service.

It is in such instances that a betting tax could form a significant source of funding for universal health care.

Betting taxes

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Moreover, the Government has clearly stated in the current budget that it will set aside Sh44.6 billion for UHC.

Shouldn’t this be the moment for Government to demonstrate how the so called “sin tax” on betting could contribute to a social public good?

Interestingly, the significance of taxes from betting and their potential role in national development is already acknowledged in our public policy pronouncements. 

A case in point is The Public Finance Management Act 2018, which clearly stipulates that 40 per cent of betting taxes be channelled to social development, including universal healthcare. If that is the case, then why are we not following what is well stated in our policies?

As things stand, I am strongly persuaded that the government is focusing on the wrong end of the stick.

  In my opinion, the Government should set off on a charm offensive to transparently demonstrate how the high level of taxation in the betting industry has so far directly translated to benefits for the public.

Ideally, solving social issues should not boil down to inordinate increase in taxation. 

It should also not focus on the introduction of punitive or even illegitimate laws and regulations that in effect only end up undermining the Government’s own public policies and punishes its economic agenda to the detriment of its citizens.

I believe that it is high time the government reconsidered its approach to addressing pertinent concerns in the betting industry in a manner that tackles the issues effectively.

This should be done without crippling duly registered and law-abiding entities from continuing  to operate (unhindered) and play their rightful role in the country’s social and economic development.

Mr Kiriro is a Consultant in Public Affairs and [email protected] 

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