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Opinions of Friday, 11 December 2009

Columnist: Bernard, Afreh Manu

Tax on ‘Kayoyos’: That is unfair!

It seems ‘kayoyo’- the local name for head porters- is synonymous with suffering and hopelessness. A friend of mine once described ‘kayoyoing’ (if there is any word like that) as the most demeaning job in our country. I could not agree more. In fact, ask any group of people if they wish to get into that trade: and they would, in unison, answer with an emphatic GOD FORBID.

Whenever I see the ‘kayoyos’ on our streets, with head-pans and tattered dresses, running after public vehicles that have big boots, several questions race through my mind. Why is that the ‘kayoyos’ have been ignored for so long? Are we happy to see the ‘kayoyos’ sleeping on ragged mats at any available space? Do we take delight in seeing our dear sisters, kayoyos, some with babies strapped on their backs, pounding the streets of Kumasi and Accra in search of anything to carry?

For purposes of clarification, let me state firmly that I have no problem with taxing the citizens; in fact, as an economics graduate I know the importance of taxation. But let us analyse this. Is it not disheartening, unfair, and sheer wickedness, that after carrying a load for over a kilometre under the blazing sun and been paid peanuts, some self-styled tax collectors would come to ‘snatch’ the monies meant for your lunch?

Let me illustrate with a personal experience. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Kejetia- the largest bus station in Kumasi. It was a Friday afternoon. And as if to underscore the fact that the Last Judgement might come anytime soon, the sun was burning so relentlessly that I thought its rays were going to penetrate my head. As usual, there were many people scurrying in different directions. With every distance that my feet carried me, it came with shoving from people who seem to tell the world that their destinations were of utmost importance. Huh! one market woman even accused me of obstructing consumers’ view to her wares. As I tried proving my innocence, she came yelling at me.

Later, as I was snaking through the crowd amid mumbling about the unbearable weather, I witnessed something that shocked me to the marrow. In fact, I never knew the milk of compassion of people, Ghanaians for that matter, had turned so cold that they would go at any length to collect taxes from ‘kayoyos’- head porters who, for economic reasons, carry loads which ordinarily are fit for Hercules.

I was standing some ten metres from the scene. But then I saw three people, two men and a lady, who apparently were tax collectors or whatever, struggling with a head porter to pay for something. The head porter had a big load on her head. Sweat dripped ceaselessly from her face; it was as if she was carrying the heaviest riddle in the world. I, initially, wanted to mind my own business. But it seemed to me inexcusable to allow the tax collectors to get away with their assault on etiquette. I walked up to them and asked, ‘What in this world has this girl done to warrant such harassment?’ With an unwelcoming look, one of them replied, ‘This girl is stubbornly refusing to pay her taxes; I will teach her a lesson.’ I asked them about the need for the payment of taxes by the head porters. Laughably, they told me the monies collected would be used to clear the filth the head porters create on our streets. ‘Eh, so you want to tell me it is the head porters who have littered the streets?’ I retorted. My comment heighten their anger. They almost pounced on me. It took the help of some onlookers to escape attack. Afterwards, the head porter told me, while crying, of how she sometimes had to forgo meals because of paying taxes.

I understand the government has instituted a Savannah Accelerated Development Authority, SADA, to help bridge the gap between the North and South of our country in terms of development, to help educate our Northern brothers and sisters who, in a manner of speaking, come southward to be in ‘kayoyo’. I hope and pray that the aforementioned Authority does not become a nine day wonder. For, as I have always maintained, if you want to gauge the overall development of a country, take a look at how she cares for the less vulnerable.

Candidly, nothing sickens me than when I hear government spin-doctors screaming that the nation is experiencing a phenomenal growth rate while the vulnerable- ‘kayoyos’, widows- continue to hold tenaciously at the end of survival sticks. I also, sometimes, wonder what kind of managers, company managers, we have in our country. Could you imagine that while my dear sisters, kayoyos, are struggling to have three square meals, some companies are busily mapping out strategies on how to waste monies on that glorified garbage called beauty contest- Miss Ghana, Miss Demon etc.

I believe it is high time the government created vocational schools to rehabilitate the head porters. I humbly submit that taxes on head porters be scrapped. I hope we would consider the agony of the head porters, realise that they also have blood running through their veins, and do all within our means to help them.

Finally, since none of your close relatives is a head porter, you might not feel bothered by their plight. Or, worse still, you might take an individualistic attitude of “why should I care, it is none of my business”. But I can assure you that, the ‘kayoyos’ we look on with disdain today would, tomorrow, produce the sons and daughters who would take our nation into the vanguard of developed nations- this is no hyperbole! Afreh Manu Bernard +233245326630.