VOICES were being heard late last week warning that a nationwide revolt or stoppage of commerce is being risked unless the government does away with electronic fiscal devices or places them in a competitive supply mode where the prices are affordable. It appears that the devices are a rip off organised by the higher fiscal authorities against traders, in like manner as speed governors were imposed on motorists and thousands of them had irreparably damaged vehicles, before that experimentation was quietly dropped. Who is right this time, indeed?

There has been an expanding, seething wave of discontent among traders, all the way from the Kariakoo commercial hub in Dar es Salaam to Mwanjelwa market in Mbeya, and in virtually all other major urban centres. It thus could not have been orchestrated by individuals, especially the usual political bogeys, for the traders class is not that amenable to placing livelihoods in peril to suit any individual’s conveniences. What they are pursuing is something they commonly feel, and it cannot be exaggerated, as otherwise it would be difficult to bring them all together.

Surprisingly enough, few other voices have been heard, or strictly speaking not one of them, in relation to the differences between the TRA and the trading community – such that Finance Minister Saada Mkuya moved to reiterate the government’s position verbatim. It related to the deadline for starting to use EFD as January 31, and beyond that legal measures would be taken on defaulters, and not a semblance of negotiation or dialogue seemed to be continuing or engaged with the revenue authorities or the ministry. It means that latter see no point in any such discussion.

It is also not surprising that the government has an intransigent attitude on the issue because it has the whole of public opinion behind it, by which is meant anyone who has doubts about integrity of Indians and Arabs who form the vast majority of shopowners where EFDs are required, To many people that sort of view or position looks patriotic; as a matter of fact it only echoes colonial reality where only Africans are indigenous, and they hold healthy suspicions on traders-foreigners. The matter is supposed to be discussed at the fiscal and governance level, as to why the government is so intransigent about the devices, not caring what price monopoly suppliers quote or indeed what level of shops ought to use it.

While it is easy to see why a supermarket needs to have EFD, and they had them before the current wave of disputation came up, that is, before anyone said they were necessary, the same cannot be said of a spare parts shop. It sells goods at intervals of anything between half hour and two hours, or longer, and trying to add Tsh600,000 into working capital to procure a device for the sake of it, is not quite rational as a measure. This is an example of an administrative measure conducted wholly in pursuit of conveniences of administrators, who hide behind the facade of tax evasion to impose any rule, wantonly, without due care for its actual relevance.

Looking at the manner in which EFD are used in supermarkets for instance, their more significant purpose is for internal accounting, that the cashiers do not engage in frauds like underquoting the price of an item if it is a close relative shopping, etc. There is often a guard standing not far from a cashier’s desk who casts a glance  at the sort of entries the cashier is making, if the price signal is heard to click and the price recorded on the register, etc. When a trader has no use of the device, that is, he can exercise internal control differently, why can’t TRA adapt to any other method as was usually the case, instead of forced use of a needless device in shop?

This habit of not paying attention to what a particular group in society says due to what the majority thinks of them is faulty and undemocratic, and it explains plenty of Africa’s woes. Most African governments rule only in order to please the sort of majorities that placed them in office, and even if it was a military regime, there would always be some majority opinion that enabled consensus to overthrow the previous government. Things come to a head, confusion and violence because a class of sentiments, or series of classes, won’t be heard; the majority ignores them.