When the value added tax went up on January first here in Great Britain, it only went up by two-and-a-half percent – not four percent like it did last year in Botswana.
But that doesn’t mean you should envy the British taxpayers and consumers; the new rate here is 20 percent, so from where I’m standing now Botswana’s 14 percent VAT looks pretty good. Hum…I think I better qualify that last statement; I’m not too keen on any tax that demands the same amount from the poor as it does from the rich so I guess what I’m really saying is the VAT over here is six percent more unfair than the one you have to pay.
But that doesn’t mean you should feel sorry for the Brits either since they get paid quite a bit more than Batswana for their labour. Yes, the cost of living is higher here, especially for heating and putting petrol in the tank, but after living in Botswana for 18 years and just over one month in England I’m beginning to see that the basic life styles for the middle classes in the two countries are surprisingly similar – especially for southern Africans who have DSTV and people here with Sky or Virgin TV who spend a fair amount of their leisure time in front of the idiot box.
There are many more English football games shown on DSTV – amazing isn’t it? – but otherwise my family’s viewing habits seem to have picked up where we left off in Francistown; House, NCIS, a bit of football, cricket and tennis, CSI this and CSI that, Total Wipe Out, Law and Order…
Then there’s the internet; it’s exactly the same, and with those freebie Skype and Facebook connections my kids seem to have carried on with the same cyber social circle at no additional cost.
When I venture out into the cold and damp, of course, I do notice I’m not in Botswana, but some things are better and some are worse. On the down side, the government makes far too great an effort to control social behaviour.
In addition to security cameras pretty much everywhere – that’s something I plan to discuss more in a future column – some of the laws border on the ridiculous. For example, you have to be 21-years-old to purchase a knife in the UK, and that includes bread knives the plastic ones that come in those picnic packages along with plastic forks and spoons.
On the positive side, professionals seem to take a great deal of pride in the quality of their work and the reason for that may be related to the billing system. When my daughter switched over to a British orthodontist I was quoted a price for getting her teeth sorted out and that was it. The fee is quite a bit higher than what I expected to pay in Botswana, but I’m not being charged at an hourly rate so the incentive for the orthodontist is to get the job done properly as soon as possible, which is exactly what we want as well.
Some things, meanwhile, just don’t seem to change no matter where you go. When I arrive at the checkout till to pay for my goods and to prop up the government with an additional 20 percent I still have to keep a close eye on the prices I’m charged if I don’t want to get ripped-off. I had hoped the South African chain stores I dealt with in Francistown were particularly bad at matching the checkout prices to the ones displayed on the shelves but several times already in four different stores I’ve had to ask for refunds after being overcharged for essentials ranging from power tools to Guinness.