A Historical Analysis of the Kenyan Taxation System

There is no perfect tax system, merely a sub-optimal system that reflects the compromised agreements between the state and society. A tax system, however should ideally follow the canons of Ibn Khaldun and Adam Smith: equality or equity; certainty; convenience; economy; and justice. Additional canons added on by other scholars like David Ricardo include: productivity, buoyancy, flexibility, simplicity and diversity.

African countries and Kenya are no exception ad they too in order to have a compliant population should try to achieve as many of these as possible and to the greatest extent possible. In Kenya taxation before colonialism was rudimentary, simple and operated at a very small scale and was mainly in kind. The Arabs settled along the East African coastline in the 7th century and formed themselves into Sultanates as city states resulting in the creation of the Sultanates of Zanzibar, Mombasa, Malindi, Pate, Pemba, Mafia, Kilwa and Witu. These city states under the Sultanate applied the Islamic law based taxes of zakat, jizya, sadaqa and khums in addition to customs levy, capitation tax as well as harbour fees and in return defence as well as development of an education and sewer system was implemented When the Portuguese came in the 14th century they continued to apply the trade taxes however only maintained defence of the seas.

Taxation under the British, was individual or homestead based and included the hut and poll tax, land tax, graduated tax, income tax and customs and excise duty. These taxes were not used to develop much apart from building the railway and roads. They deliberately ignored the cardinal principles of taxation. This was due to the fact that the British colonial policy rested on the policy of conversion of a territory into a viable economic entity. Other drivers of the British taxation system are also highlighted and they include, among others, to supplement the cost of administration, to establish control, to convert a subsistence economy into a capitalist one and enforced labour was part of this philosophy.

Kenya had developed an extensive taxation system that unfortunately maintains a reflection of the colonial policy and this resulted in a tax system, highly dependent (both formally and informally) on customs and import duties that today is spawning more problems in a globalizing world that is looking to open borders and reduce tariffs.

See generally: Waris: Tax and Development Law Africa (2013) http://www.lawafrica.com/item_view.php?itemid=91

Taxation of SMEs in Africa and Kenya

There is increasing pressure in Kenya to give better concessions for MNCs (not just international ones but regional as well as homegrown multinationals) but the biggest question for a newly emerging country like Kenya remains development, poverty and raising the standards of living . So where does the SME and micro-business fit in? How does one ensure that the small businesses succeed and prosper. The African Tax organisations are  studying SMEs and interesting facts continue to arise for the Micro enterprise in Africa. These SMEs or micro enterprises are numerous and include both registered and unregistered business. The unregistered  ones continue to use illicit means to work through the system: so how are the legitimate small and micro enterprises fairing?

In a globalised world where everyone is pushing the MNC concept the modest businessperson is having great difficulty which means that if we do not protect and nurture these cottage industries and small-scale businesses we will not have a diverse economy with innovative business practices that suit our context. So where are the problems and what can government do to assist?

Firstly, with the tightening of Anti-money Laundering laws the SMEs are having more difficulty setting up bank accounts. Some banks are shutting down the accounts of the entire groups of SMEs without exception and the result is that SMEs stop functioning sometimes for more than 6 months. In addition they are not able to get loans easily and are placed under a higher level of scrutiny, The fact there is no sieving mechanism within the banks that are closing all accounts means that if you are a MNC or big company you escape the added scrutiny.

Secondly, the movement of goods and services into and out of the country. Several SMEs I deal with long delays at the port as well as the difficulties in assessment. This means that perishables expire and that the cost of doing business is prohibitive. In the world of the franchisees where local businesses are expected to maintain global standards through use of the same source of products and raw materials, this almost guarantees failure.

Finally, there is a need to recognised that in developing countries like Kenya the majority of business is small business and by giving preference to larger businesses you are ensuring that there is no emerging small scale and potential MNC from within the country.

There are many other reasons and I would love to hear your opinions on this all I can see is that the small businessperson cannot survive int he current climate unless they remain unregistered!

Taxation and State Building in Kenya: Enhancing Revenue Capacity to Advance Human Welfare

Tax is more often than not considered a tough subject, which is best left to tax experts to grapple with. It is this general perception that has led to the lack of information among many people, Kenyans and Africans are no exception. In fact, a large percentage of the population is still in the dark regarding tax policies and laws as well as tax and development over time. A 2009 report on Kenya, has sought to analyze the existent tax structure in Kenya but also to explore emerging regional and national themes. The report covered key areas such as the practice of tax avoidance and evasion in Kenya and its effect on the economy. Above all, the Report was aimed at aiding the Kenyan layperson in understanding the taxation system and how it works for his or her benefit.

The role and importance of a tax regime in any welfare state because most states in Africa rely on tax for funding. The social contract exists between the state and the public to give taxation its legitimacy can be approached from a human rights perspective with regards to taxation and how the same can help in the alleviation of living standards, poverty and other scourges affecting the taxpayer. Tax can be seen as a just tool that can cure inequalities in Kenya as well as other countries in the world. This work has been developing and now many are discussing the linkage between tax and human rights which has been published in a book Waris, Tax and Development LawAfrica (2013)

  1. http://www.lawafrica.com/item_view.php?itemid=91
  2. http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Kenya_1004_TJN_Spreads.pdf