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Exempting athletes from paying tax is wrong

By Dominic Odipo | January 27th 2014

By Dominic Odipo

Kenya: Should our world-beating athletes – who bring so much glory to Kenya by winning all those gold medals at all those international meets – be taxed on the millions of dollars they earn every year in fees and bonuses?

Yes, they should be taxed for two main reasons. The only meritorious argument should be over the rate of these taxes and what portions of their total incomes should qualify for taxation.

The first reason why they should be taxed is that this country has given them so much for which they ought to try and pay back at least something small in partial recompense. Consider just a few of these things, some of which are literally priceless.

First, our unique geographic terrain that provides them unmatched training grounds and spaces.

If, for example, they had been born and raised in England’s Yorkshire Dales, how many of them would yet have won a single marathon or steeplechase gold medal at an Olympic or other international meet?

The second reason why they should be taxed is because their core argument that they should be exempted because they bring a lot of glory to the country when they win those medals, is fundamentally flawed.

Yes, indeed these athletes do bring a lot of glory to this country when they win these medals, but national glory does not flow into this country only through these medals!

What glory, or how much of it, whatever it is, did James Ngugi bring to this country by writing Weep Not Child or The River Between? What glory did Albert Chinua Achebe take to his native Nigeria or Biafra by writing Things Fall Apart or, more recently, There Was a Country?

If we are going to begin exempting people from paying taxes because they bring glory to this country, where are we going to stop? And how are we going to define and quantify such glory so we can know how much of it to offset against the dollars or shillings earned by each individual bearer of glory?

Imagine this country has even gone further and built an international airport in Eldoret so that the majority of these glory-bringers can arrive in their home counties with the glory still sweet enough for their kinsmen to smell and palpable enough to touch!

A word for KRA – tax these athletes as mercilessly as you tax all our other glory-bringers. If they refuse to go and compete at the next Olympics, let them. That is no big deal.

Come the next Olympiad, there will be a whole new crop who can take over from them. And tread very carefully around this glory business, because we don’t know enough about it to begin introducing it into our tax systems.

For example, can anyone tell us which athlete brings the country more glory: the one who wins the steeplechase men’s final at the Worlds or the one who breaks the Olympics record?

Apart from a wonderful geographic terrain, this country has also provided these athletes with a relatively stable political and economic environment which, among other things, has allowed them to train all year round.

In fact, what they should be debating among themselves is which one of them should be granted the annual KRA gold medal for paying the highest taxes! Let them stop wasting time debating glory and other unquantifiables and just get on with winning medals, earning dollars and paying taxes quietly.

This glory business is far too tenuous to introduce into real life debates about our taxation policy. How much glory did Nelson Mandela bring to his native South Africa without winning any gold medal on the track?

How many Olympic gold medals would add up to the glory that Mandela brought to his country? Before these athletes begin asking for tax rebates, let them first begin answering such questions. In any case, do they let all the glory they earn at these events flow into the country, or do they retain some of it for themselves?

It is easy to catch the drift of just how complicated these arguments can get.

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.

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