Although the caption is akin to a 1986 Hollywood movie featuring Paul Newman and Tom Cruz with an American spelling, there is no attempt to plagiarise. Comes the time for the Annual Budget, you would invariably hear arguments for and against whitening of "Black Money". Great scholarly debates are undertaken about the pros and cons of turning black money into white. Does money have any colour as we are led to believe! I think it only has hue and changes its looks depending on who its master is and how it is acquired. Paradoxically, if you send or receive money through unrecognised channel, you resort to money laundering. But if you dry clean your so-called black money through a confession and payment to the government coffer, it isn't laundering anymore.
Agreed that these are mere semantics. But, there is a racial bias here. Are all things black ignoble and despicable? Just thinking of it — Black Money, Black Market, Black Magic, Black Mail, Black Hole (!) — what have you.
Actually, it's the magical tax that has everything to do with all the things monetary, black or white. Let me make an honest pronouncement here. No human being feels comfortable in paying tax voluntarily, especially the direct ones. I remember my old, widowed grandmother who inherited a sizeable property of agricultural land and the seasonal produce of paddy and jute ran into hundreds of maunds. She had no problem in paying the land revenue but would vehemently resent and demur at the very idea of paying taxes to the Union Council even if it was equivalent and worthy of a few kilograms of the paddy and jute.
My grandmother had lived under three 'Raj' and the sight of Tahsildar with a Collection Register (Red Book) under his armpit and a Chowkidar closely following behind carrying a shining bamboo club and beating drum was probably a reminder of the colonial days. Rightly or wrongly, it was widely perceived that the hard-earned money was being "laundered' to a faraway island for comfort and well-being of colonial masters. And the Tahsildar enjoyed wide power and authority to dispense instant justice by seizing and acquiring cattle heads or agricultural produce from the non-performing tax payers and tax dodgers!
It's the Cricket season. It would not be out of place to recollect the pain, anguish and agony of Aamir Khan and his folks in the Bollywood film 'Lagaan'. The film tells it all.
And it was the issue of tax that finally culminated in the American War of Revolution. Although "No taxation without representation' was the rallying principle of the settlers in the American colonies, but all it translated into was the movement against only three pence of tax per pound of tea. Coincidentally, that exotic drink used to be imported from nowhere but here and China by the East India Company and sold through the British merchants in the American colonies. Obsession (!) with tea has been replaced by passion for coffee, thanks to the outgrowth of Starbucks.
The much-known Boston Tea Party wasn't a tea party per se. On December 16, 1773, angry protesters boarded three British ships namely, Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver anchored at the Boston harbour and dumped the whole consignment of tea into the Bay - three shiploads, three hundred and forty-two chests of tea in all. The Government of King George, the III of England retaliated with more coercive action and the American Revolution for independence got more momentum leading to the Declaration of Independence on July 04, 1776, just within two and a half years.
About one and a half century later and few thousand miles away, in 1930 a struggling Mahatma Gandhi would be defiantly leading a march to the beaches of the Arabian Sea for long 24 days and covering 240 miles lifting palmful of salt grains thus sending a similar message to the colonial masters when they had imposed taxes and restriction on extraction, collection, possession and trading of salt by the native Indians.
But we live in different times now. Taxes are the engines that provide the motive force for the economy. Without taxes, the governments would run into paupers, sort of. Americans, it seems, have overcome their past prejudice against taxes. Although almost everyone hates to pay taxes but ultimately end up paying them. Or else, taxes are skillfully skimmed away. In fact, in today's world, the most efficient financial system is the one that can administer the most effective taxation system. Taxation is an enigma. The smartest of the Presidents are the ones who declare the biggest tax cuts!
But taxes are multi-headed hydra — they grow and multiply.
Back home, gone are the days of the club-wielding, drum-beating Tahsildars. All the tax collectors are our kith and kin. They are your cousins and my cousins. But understandably, their future and their career progression depends on their ability in identifying as many of us who are earning more than Tk.2,50,000.00 per annum (at this writing). Let us declare all our income, with or without disclosing the source, and whiten the money for the last time (?).
But is there a last time! Earning money by itself isn't bad keeping our sense of right and wrong in proper place and perspective. Black money is black, but it also forms a part of our national asset, our GDP (gross domestic product), our bank deposit and investment. By estimates, both liberal and conservative, the current amount of black money in Bangladesh is to the rough order of magnitude of Tk 13 billion or thirteen thousand crores (only). It's time to reckon our values, our ethics and our moral. Black money should not necessarily be spent through the dark ways and means. The Americans have placed their trust in God and have imprinted the Greenback with their Faith. Other than the tax regimen, how does one whiten one's wealth and conscience: Donating two and a half per cent in charity, definitely.
Our economy is already on a take-off mode, let it climb higher heights and cruise comfortably. Let us strengthen our economy. Let us strengthen our money. At this point, what I am suggesting is also strengthening of the Two Taka note — just on the flip side. Look at the poor denomination. Torn beyond recognition: battered, beaten, defaced and scotched from end to end and drenched by the sweat, spoiled by the soil — yet its ubiquitous presence from the fat wallet to the thin fold of the loin cloth of the Rickshaw Walla. It clearly stands out as the present market leader in a multi trillion-dollar economy; a proud legal tender, indeed. Happily, most of these are blackened and not black.
Muhammad Zakiul Islam is Air Commodore (Retired)