17 February 2016
Meet three amazing campaigners from ActionAid’s youth network, Activista, who are working on our Make Tax Fair campaign in Malawi. They’re pretty angry about the UK-Malawi tax treaty, which makes it possible for UK companies to get away with paying little or no tax in their country, and are fighting hard to get it changed.
“More tax revenue could pay for safer roads”
Meet 22-year-old Activista, Chisomo Bullah. She’s extremely passionate about ending tax dodging and this is no surprise considering how much she has been personally affected by the lack of public services that tax could fund in Malawi.
Last year Chisomo was in a serious road accident. She was knocked unconscious and broke her arm in two places. She says:
The road was very bad — it was very unsafe. If there had been more tax revenue the government could maintain the roads so that accidents could be reduced.
After her accident she was taken to a government-funded hospital where she had to wait two days in severe pain to receive treatment.
“They didn’t have electricity, and I even had to use my own money to buy medicine because the hospital didn’t have any.”
This is exactly why countries like Malawi need a better tax deal, so that women like Chisomo do not need to struggle to get essential healthcare.
“I wanted to do something to change my country”
Another Activista I met in Malawi was Bubbily Silingwe. She is a 22-year-old student in Lilongwe, Malawi, and joined the Activista group in her college because she “wanted to do something to change my country.”
Bubbily is studying for a diploma in Nutrition and Livelihoods and would one day like to work to improve nutrition for children under five in Malawi. But it isn’t always easy for people on low incomes like her to attend school and college.
“This is considered a government-funded school but we have to spend about 334,000 kw (£315) to stay here for a semester that only lasts for three and a half months. I don’t think that is fair. It is sometimes hard to earn that and then spend it on something which you know could’ve been funded by taxes.”
In a country where 50.7% of the 16 million population live in extreme poverty, this is a huge amount of money to find for a college that is government-funded. Tax from foreign companies could help colleges like Bubbily’s be properly funded and resourced.
I am really angry that there are big companies coming to Malawi and not paying fair tax here.
When asked what she would say to any big multi-national companies, like Australian mining company Paladin, who use the tax treaties to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, she said:
“I am really angry that there are big companies coming to Malawi and not paying fair tax here. I might not know them, but just knowing the fact that they are here exploiting Malawi is unpleasant. If these companies don’t know right from wrong then maybe it is our time to tell them.”
“It’s time for the treaty to change”
Pelani joined Activista while she was at university and is now the Chair of her local group. She is hugely passionate about the work ActionAid and Activista do to make tax fair.
“I cannot stay idle. I need to go out there and teach about tax justice, and then maybe in the future Malawi will improve.”
Pelani is a huge believer in the power of youth and hopes that the Malawian government can do more to bring in more taxes. “I think that schools should be free so that the young can learn as we are the changers and motivators of the nation.”
I cannot stay idle. I need to go out there and teach about tax justice, and then maybe in the future Malawi will improve.
When asked specifically about the UK-Malawi tax treaty, Pelani said:
“I think this tax treaty is bad. It’s time for it to change. We’ve been an independent Malawi for over 50 years. That treaty was signed in the past and we are now in the present so let’s start afresh and do things fairly. We need freedom to express our feelings and express our human rights.”
It’s your turn to stand with Malawi
These three inspiring women are just a few of the thousands of Malawians fighting for the UK-Malawi tax treaty to be made fair. So far they’ve been lobbying their government, and the campaign has had coverage in Malawi’s biggest newspapers - but Malawians cannot achieve change alone.
Please send a message of solidarity to activists like Chisomo, Bubbily and Pelani. We’ll deliver your message to them to show they aren’t alone in this fight. We’ll also send it to the UK’s Financial Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, so he knows that campaigners across the UK want a treaty that ensures UK companies pay their fair share of tax in the world’s poorest country.
As Chisomo told me: “In the UK and Malawi, we should be speaking one language — fair tax for all.”