Matthew Lester: Enough with bureaucracy. Let’s go fishing.

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If there’s one thing that Matthew Lester’s mastered outside of tax, it’s story telling. His youth experiences seem to resonate in today’s conflicts, which is a lesson for all. Life’s not too serious, you just have to simplify it. And this is where Lester’s next gripe lies. It’s with bureaucracy and forms, forms, forms. And it’s the end of the tax year so Lester is faced with, well, more forms. He says he’s just gonna pay a bit more tax than bother this year. Some classic tongue in cheek humour from the tax man living in the Eastern Cape. – Stuart Lowman

By Matthew Lester*

The definition of a privileged South Africans should be ‘those who don’t have to kneel and beg in front of a bank manager or loan shark every January.’

The privileged engage in other depressing sport like finalizing their 2015 tax returns before the extension runs out at the end of January. Or schlepping their cash offshore after the damage is already done. And then comes calculating their retirement annuity top-up payment and second provisional tax payment due by the end of February. It’s all not enough fun to keep the mind alive. Really!

For 2016 the retirement annuity top up payment is calculated at 15% of non-retirement funding income. I don’t know if I’m going to bother this year. My contributions for the last 2 years have gone backwards in Rand terms. And I would rather slit my wrists to Leonard Cohen’s music than calculate what I have lost in US$ terms.

So maybe this year I will just pay a bit more tax and blow the rest on booze.

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The privileged just get bombarded with compliance burden. And when they’ve finished with all that they stand in cues in hardware stores in a vain attempt to keep their houses in order so that others can come and drink their booze.

Steve Jobs was right ‘do what you love.’ That’s easy to say if you love making money.

Stuff it dude, lets go fishing.

My intense dislike of bureaucratic processes came from childhood. No, I never landed up in a refugee cue or something. I was just intensely afraid of bureaucrats or anyone in authority.

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For my 7th birthday Dr Moe, a kind man, had a child’s throw-net made to encourage my already overdeveloped lust for fishing. Apparently he managed to get someone at the local mad house go knit it in return for a bottle of grog. It was really quite a work of art.

‘Watch out’ said Dad, ‘we don’t want him to end up like Hemingway, a fisherman, writer, womaniser and drunk!’

On the first day out with the net I was apprehended by a man in epaulettes demanding a license. And only the laundry new my reaction to that. I was escorted back home where the man remonstrated with my Dad like I was out to do more environmental damage than a Taiwanese long-liner. Eventually he got tired and went away.

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Dad explained that there are these do-gooder-God-botherer types who lurked around the place looking for something to complain about. But Dad said it was better to comply with the system. So it was off to the Alexandria magistrate’s court to pay 50 cents for a license for an 7 year old..

There was a formidable woman behind the counter who gave me forms with carbon paper. Dad reckoned it would be a good learning experience if I attempted to fill it in and made a hell of a mess.

Then came that block on the form for’ Sex.’ Dad told me to write ‘yes please’ and sent me back to the formidable woman with my 50 cents.

  • Rhodes University Professor Matthew Lester was educated at St Johns College, Wits and Rhodes universities. He is a chartered accountant who has worked at Deloitte, SARS and BDO Spencer Steward. A member of the Davis Tax Committee investigating the structure of aspects of the RSA tax system, he is based in Grahamstown.

By Matthew Lester