When taxman recruited butchers to raise revenue

Colonial administrators at a village during the Mau Mau crackdown in the 1950s. [File, Standard]

This is not a good time to be a taxman. Taxpayers are hungry, broke and angry. The country is fighting off the worst drought in 40 years which has left almost five million people without food.

And yet the taxman must raise revenue so that the government can meet its obligations such as ensuring that there are enough medical supplies for all.

But if the technocrats at the Treasury paid special interest to the past, they would have generated additional revenue from the long-suffering peasants by recruiting butchers. Historical accounts show that in the 1950s when the government was struggling to raise hut tax from herders in northern Kenya, revenue collectors would not sit pretty in their offices.

Instead, the government would dispatch the tax collectors to go round the windswept manyattas in search of taxpayers. In the event the tax collectors who had to be accompanied by chiefs found the residents herding the animals far away from their homes, quick calculations would be done.

Even in instances when they did not have ready cash, the government had a way of making them pay as a colonial technocrat, who served as district clerk has chronicled in his memoirs, Bwana Karani: The life and times of Mervyn Mercial in East Africa.

When the tax collectors found a resident who had arrears, the defaulter would willingly surrender a sheep or a goat which would be taken by the butcher and its value credited to his account.

"Arrears of tax would be paid ungrudgingly, and if hard cash was not available, the dues would often be paid in kind, by producing a sheep or goat. The animals were bought by the local butcher who often accompanied the administration party on such sales."

To ensure that the money was not pilfered, the tax clerks moved around with steel cash boxes which had the Treasury serial number.

There were instances when some were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, but these were not common, When one was caught they were sacked and subjected to hard labour.

Even today, there is irresistible temptation among some tax collectors and civil servants to reward themselves with government funds. We have seen many individuals being dragged to court for amassing millions which they could not account for.

Perhaps it is time the government borrowed from the colonial administration where corrupt officers were sacked, forced to do hard labour and caned. But it appears that with the government employing new tricks every day, the corrupt like the legendary bird have learnt to fly without perching.