I BEGAN MY EDUCATION at age six in the remote Kwia primary school in the Wapenamanda district of Enga Province in 1993 and moved up the ladder until I found myself graduating from university early this year.
A few weeks after graduation, I was offered a job in one of the construction companies here in Papua New Guinea.
I went to the site the day after the interview. As the company policy dictated, I had to follow the same procedures of employment as everyone else: safety inductions, medical checks and contract signing were done in the first three days.
Then, on 29 May, I started my official duties. That’s where a new chapter was opened and I started to experience the outside world.
I really enjoy working with the company despite a few challenges. Official duty starts at 5.30am and ends at 5.30pm every day. I had restless days knowing that I would be rewarded. And I was able to put into practice what I learned during my years of schooling.
After two weeks, a French colleague who was also working with us in the department asked me if I had received my salary. The common term used in PNG is pay; I hadn’t heard of salary.
In the evening, the manager gave me a medium-sized yellow envelope. On the outside it said, ‘Joe Wasia’. And on top it read SALARY in bold print.
I sat comfortable on my desk and gently opened the envelope. It was my first time to open a parcel. I’d been paid cash before but never knew what a pay slip and its particulars looked like.
I took out the pay slip and started reading. The words ‘gross pay’ were written at the top and upon seeing the figure next to it my lungs flapped. I stopped and thanked myself for the hard work and sleepless nights at school.
Then I continued reading the details and, towards the end, there was the word ‘tax’ - a word I had only read about in text books and newspapers. Beside it was an amount which was almost half of the salary.
After few moments it came into my mind that this was the government’s share.
I had doubts, as the figure was almost half of my salary. I ran to my manager and put the pay slip on his table and asked him to explain everything in it.
He explained in detail from the top and when he went to the part where it stated ‘tax’ my heart stopped beating for few seconds.
“This is the amount of money your government deducts as tax from every individual worker and it is a compulsory deduction under your national laws” he said.
I looked seriously at him and he added that the company couldn’t do anything regarding tax.
With a low voice I thanked him and took the pay slip and walked back to my desk.
I had a couple of sleepless nights after that first pay. It seems harsh treatment by the government to collect huge amount of tax from individual workers, who are taxed again on the goods and services they buy.
There are many ways the government taxes its people, and it’s law. Income tax is paid directly to the government by every individual worker in the country. And indirect tax is paid through goods and services that citizens buy.
Every time we use a service provided by a company or a government or buy goods from the store we pay tax. Government taxes the packet of rice we buy from the store, and the transport services we use, the books that we buy, almost everything. And that’s really a painful bite by the government.
It must be painful is for the workers earning K300-400 a fortnight. It must be difficult for them to sustain their families in towns and cities for the next two weeks.
The cost of goods and services here in PNG has skyrocketed in recent years. To make the situation worse, every individual worker is required by law to pay tax.
Government should look at reducing income tax for every worker. It should also amend the laws governing goods and service tax so that people can enjoy their lives.
Only then, I believe, will people feel the effect of the economic boom that Somare and O’Neill preach about.