The decision by the Government to block mobile money and SMS short codes run by betting firms is not good. The claim that the firms are tax cheats is an excuse so that the Government can prey on the betting industry.
Suppose the claim of tax evasion is valid, the Government is mandated, through its regulatory agencies, to form a tribunal to investigate the allegations. If acts of dishonesty are revealed, regulators have the backing of the law to approve hefty fines. Some people in the Government are envious of the privately-owned betting firms. There have been sustained attacks on the industry players for a long time.
The betting craze in Kenya is not the fault of the betting firms. The growth of the industry can be attributed to massive unemployment of the youth who engage in gambling as full time occupation or as means of passing time.
The second factor is development of new technologies such as online live betting. The newcomer entrepreneurs who own these firms have become rich and prosperous because they were able to identify the opportunity; they have been innovative and hardworking.
Fred Matiang’i, the Interior and Cabinet Secretary, has no purpose in the betting row. He seems malicious and out to discourage business. His plan of cracking down on suspected tax cheats by shutting down legit business is ill-advised. Urging the police to clamp down on private business is unlawful.
Dr Matiang’i should instead focus on his fundamental roles of maintaining law and order and security of private property. The Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) has lost the sense of direction to the point of being ridiculous. Issuing ultimatums to betting firms is unwarranted. They, too, should concentrate on their important functions of permitting entry of new businesses and preventing fraud.
The price the nation will pay for running down businesses is high. Business will be discouraged, investors’ confidence will be lost and the Government loses tax revenues to finance public expenditure like healthcare. Thousands of jobs are also on the line as firms consider sacking employees. Please, reverse this barbaric move quickly.