Resolve tax standoff over HIV and TB drugs urgently

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Editorials

Resolve tax standoff over HIV and TB drugs urgently


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HIV drugs. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The taxman argues that the import arrangement flouted the tax waiver policies on government-to-government donations, hence the tax demand.
  • While it is the duty of the taxman to claim his due from every eligible source, especially with the country suffering perennial revenue shortfalls, holding onto life-saving drugs granted to the country is morally wrong.

The revelation that Sh1.1 billion worth of HIV and tuberculosis drugs are stuck at the port of Mombasa due to a tax dispute is disheartening for the thousands of patients who depend on these drugs for survival.

The taxman argues that the import arrangement flouted the tax waiver policies on government-to-government donations, hence the tax demand.

While it is the duty of the taxman to claim his due from every eligible source, especially with the country suffering perennial revenue shortfalls, holding onto life-saving drugs granted to the country is morally wrong.

Taxes are meant to be utilised for public good, and are ideally not supposed to be imposed in a way that hurts the very good that they are supposed to cover.

Many of the beneficiaries of these critical HIV and TB drugs are among the most vulnerable in society, and would otherwise not afford the treatment on commercial terms.

This unfortunate bottleneck has also come at a particularly bad time for the recipients, given that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed restrictions on daily economic activities, especially for people with underlying health problems. It is also not lost on any observer in this issue that the Ministry of Health would struggle to finance the purchase of these drugs on commercial terms were the grants to cease because of tax disputes.

The bulk of the blame for this unseemly spat should therefore go to the ministry, and the US Agency for International Development (USAid) for seemingly communicating at a crossroads over what should ideally be a straightforward issue.

First of all, this is not the first time such a consignment is coming into the country.

All the parties involved are well aware of this and are therefore well versed with the procedures of bringing in the consignments into the country.

It begs the question why this impasse has been allowed to persist for two months.

The Ministry of Health and USAid should move with haste and resolve the impasse to allow the critical drugs to get to the intended recipients.



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