Economist Professor Oliver Saasa says Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) commissioner general Kingsley Chanda’s move to publicly disparage government policy stance on Value Added Tax signals one’s plans to resign their position on account of principle due to disagreement with public policy.
And Prof Saasa says Chanda’s belittling of his professional qualifications is an indirect way of questioning Minister of Finance Bwalya Ng’andu’s competence on tax matters.
Meanwhile, Prof Saasa has advised Chanda to stop name calling those with divergent professional opinions over national issues as this only demeans the respected office he holds.
Chanda last week charged at Professor Saasa, calling the Premier Consult managing director “a hungry and angry man masquerading as an economist” after the latter questioned his insistent support for the discarded Goods and Services Tax.
But in response, Professor Saasa maintained his earlier position that Chanda was irresponsible in the manner he defended the Goods and Services Tax without a study to back it up.
“Based on my own professional assessment and having listened to different categories of industry players, my position still remains: it is extremely irresponsible for anyone in an important public office not to subject a policy of such importance as migrating from VAT to Sales Tax without a comprehensive study that explored the pertinent issues worthy of consideration. If there were comprehensive studies undertaken by ZRA and Ministry of Finance, as Mr Chanda claims, it only made sense that such studies were placed in the public domain during the public discussion that followed the former Finance Minister’s announcement. The public was not given access to the results of such studies. That too is irresponsible,” Prof Saasa said.
“It is also careless to assume that most officials in the Ministry of Finance, or in ZRA for that matter, are against the position the Minister of Finance has opted for. This is contrary to information that I have. Nor has anyone said they are against reforming VAT. In fact, the Minister of Finance made this very clear that this is what will happen. That is also what industry wants to see. What we were opposed to is to swiftly move to Sales Tax without sufficient regard to the views of industry and the wider long-term implications of such a move.”
He said it was therefore surprising that Chanda reacted in the manner that he did to his statement pertaining to “my support for the decision of Government to retain VAT as opposed to what he championed as his preferred option”.
“Generally, I rarely dignify strange reactions with a response but, considering the respect that I have for the Office that Mr Chanda occupies, I feel it is quite right to put things in perspective. Firstly, it is strange that Mr Chanda questions my earned academic credentials by calling me ‘so-called professor’ and describes me as a ‘hungry and angry man,’ the sort of name-calling that I don’t expect to come from someone occupying the public office that he does. I associate that to people lower than him. Even though he is clearly disappointed by the position of the Minister of Finance, who is actually supposed to be his boss, regarding VAT as well as the position that I have publicly supported, even when government was on the other side of the argument, name-calling should be beyond his stature for it only helps to demean the public office that he holds. My position on Sales Tax is purely professional and informed by my own analysis and having listened to and assessed market sentiments,” Prof Saasa explained.
“To attempt to blame me for the government decision to retain VAT is to unfairly extend a compliment to me for a job that many professionals and captains of industry also voiced. Using crude language towards professionals or the business community that have expressed serious concerns about the manner Mr Chanda’s office pushed for Sales Tax is clearly out of taste, to say the least. It is even more inappropriate to publicly disparage Government policy position when you fall under the Minister who has made public, through a Budget Speech, the position of the Executive. I would like to believe that the Budget that was presented to Parliament was endorsed by Cabinet. As a student of public policy myself, I have rarely come across cases where a public official publicly disparages the policy position of Government. This is exactly what Mr Chanda has done. This usually happens when one plans to resign their position on account of principle due to disagreement with public policy. Perhaps I am reacting too early.”
He added that Chanda should not question his credentials but instead come out clear on what he really thinks about his boss, the Minister of Finance.
“Trying to publicly belittle me just because we are in disagreement on fundamental issues will not work. If Mr Chanda wants to join clowns that believe that fields other than mainstream economics are the only ones competent to comment on tax issues or any other economic and developmental issues, he should come out clearly and we shall call him by his real name. If his questioning the position of the Minister of Finance on VAT retention is also informed by his doubting the competence of the Minister since he is not a mainstream economist, then let him again come out and say so publicly and we will know exactly what he thinks of his boss,” Prof Saasa charged.
He reminded Chanda that ZRA was a public institution subject to scrutiny by members of the public.
“The public is at liberty to express opinions on its workings and the workings of its personnel. An opinion targeted at the organisation, directly or through its chief executive, need not be perceived a challenge on the human being concerned. My challenging Mr Chanda’s approach regarding the manner he argued his case was not meant to be personal unless he mistakes himself as ZRA. Even the presidency can be called upon to account and defend its position, to name-call under such circumstances is ill-informed. Presently, I am aware that there are sections of society that believe that ZRA has not performed to their expectations and that, because of particular concerns, should be subjected to an audit with respect to what is happening there especially with respect to the management of VAT refunds. Such calls are usually targeted at institutional systems and procedures and not necessarily at the employees per se unless such employees are guilty of wrongdoing. To respond to such calls using crude and foulmouthed language would, similarly, be inappropriate,” said Prof Saasa.