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Tax Boycott Launched in Tokyo
- Subject: Tax Boycott Launched in Tokyo
- From: carol@xxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 16 Aug 1998 09:06:00
TOKYO ACTIVISTS LAUNCH WEEK-LONG TAX BOYCOTT AS NLD DEADLINE NEARS
Prodemocracy activists in Japan have organized a one-week tax boycott by
expatriate Burmese starting Friday, August 14, and continuing through
Friday, August 21, as a nonviolent demonstration of support for Aung San Suu
Kyi and the National League for Democracy. The boycott aims to increase
pressure on the military regime to convene parliament in the run-up to the
August 21 deadline set by the NLD.
Burmese diplomatic missions collect millions of dollars each year from
overseas Burmese by extorting a monthly "tax" of 10% of the citizen's
income. Virtually all Burmese oppose the tax but most pay it for fear of
losing their passports and other privileges. (See background article
below.) Prodemocracy activists believe the tax is doubly unjust: not only
does it place a heavy burden on struggling overseas workers but also funds
the purchase of arms used to oppress people inside Burma, especially ethnic
Members of the Joint Action Committee, a coalition of Japan-based Burmese
prodemocracy groups, began passing out leaflets in front of the Burmese
Embassy in Tokyo on August 14 urging Burmese citizens not to pay their taxes
this week. So far the Burmese community has observed the boycott (either
because they supported it or were ashamed to walk past the activists!). The
boycott will continue through at least August 21.
The Joint Action Committee urges activists in all countries with
tax-collecting Burmese embassies to take similar actions either before or on
The time is ripe for a tax revolt. Daw Suu and the NLD, by refusing to
abide by unjust laws -- such as the one forcing elected MPs to sign in twice
a day with police like criminals -- and by exercising her legal right to
travel freely in her own country, has set a courageous example for all
Burmese. The monthly tax is illegal and unjust and should be disobeyed.
Moreover, according to the BBC, many economists predict the Burmese military
regime will run out of money next month. Let's be sure that overseas
Burmese workers do not bail them out.
"Taxation without representation is tyranny." So goes the cry that
inspired 18th century Americans to rebel against British economic
exploitation and political repression.
Two centuries later and half a world away, an even less popular government
is robbing citizens of their hard-earned income while depriving them of
their basic civil rights. Isn't it time for a tax revolt among expatriate
Burma is one of only a handful of countries (along with North Korea,
Eritrea, Vietnam, the Philippines and the U.S.) that taxes the foreign
earned income of its citizens living and working abroad, according to the
Asia Pacific Council of the American Chambers of Commerce.
Burmese in Japan, for example, are expected to pay 10% of their income or
¥10,000 per month, whichever is higher, to the Burmese Embassy in Tokyo. In
the U.S., they must pay 10% (usually around $65) monthly to the Burmese
Embassy in Washington D.C. In both cases, such workers are already paying
taxes to the government of the host country. The situation is similar for
Burmese living in such places as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea and
Australia. (The only exception to this practice, in fact, may be the U.K.
because of a tax treaty between the two countries.)
Bad enough that Burmese working overseas endure double taxation. What's
worse is that they get almost nothing in return. If a citizen does not pay
tax to the Burmese Embassy, he or she is refused all consular services.
That citizen cannot renew his or her passport and therefore cannot go home
or go to a third country. He or she cannot open a bank account for
remittance to Burma and therefore cannot support family back home. Children
of parents who don't pay their taxes cannot take the standardized tests
necessary for advancement in the Burmese education system.
"Most people cannot afford to pay taxes to SLORC after approximately 28%
tax is deducted from each pay," explains T. Lwin, a Burmese in the U.S.
"Most people lost their passport this way. What I heard was that if you pay
$5,000 they will reissue your passport no matter how much you owed them before."
An illustration of the Tokyo embassy's greed: an illegal Burmese who was
arrested by Japanese immigration authorities languished in jail for six
months because the embassy refused to renew his passport or confirm his
citizenship so that he could be deported. The exasperated Japanese
authorities eventually had to contact the Ministry of Home Affairs inside
Burma to obtain the paperwork necessary to send the poor man home.
Another case involves a Burmese worker who died in Korea. Under Korean
law, his surviving family was entitled to life insurance from the Korean
government. Unfortunately, payment was made through the Burmese Embassy in
Seoul rather than directly to the family. Although the compensation had
nothing to do with the Burmese government, the Burmese embassy in Seoul took
10% of the payment from the grieving family.
Why do Burmese endure this kind of exploitation? The military government
claims that is it the law. Any Burmese who wishes to obtain a passport to
go abroad must sign a document agreeing to pay the tax. No agreement, no
The simpler explanation, though, is fear. Expatriate Burmese are afraid of
being stranded abroad. They are afraid their children will be deprived of
education and their families back home deprived of basic needs. They sign
the agreement and they pay the tax.
While the consequences of defaulting on tax payments are frightening to
overseas Burmese workers and their families, the consequences of tax payment
are even more terrifying. The Burmese Embassy in Tokyo, according to one
estimate, takes in ¥2 billion per year from the approximately 10,000
citizens living in Japan, according to Shukan Hoseki, a Japanese weekly.
The Burmese Embassy in Washington D.C. is thought to rake in $2 million
annually from the approximately 50,000 Burmese living in the U.S., according
to Nyi Nyi Lwin of the Rangoon Post. (This even includes political asylees,
who pay to protect their families still in Burma.) Burmese embassies and
consulates in other countries carry on the same practice. Where does this
enormous amount of hard currency go? Shukan Hoseki speculates that the
military regime in Rangoon "could be pooling this revenue as a secret fund
or using it to purchase arms from China." Certainly a substantial amount is
spent on the military. And, as Burmese know very well, the main mission of
the Tatmadaw is to persecute Burmese civilians in general and ethnic
minorities in particular. How many informants, how many rounds of
ammunition, how many landmines can ¥10,000 buy?
Why reward a military regime which, through corruption and extravagant
spending on arms, has devastated the domestic economy, thereby forcing its
citizens to go abroad to find way to support themselves and their families
back home? Why reward a junta responsible for separating children from
parents, brothers and sisters, husbands from wives?
We are proposing that the overseas Burmese community unite in a courageous,
selfless and nonviolent act of civil disobedience. We are urging all
Burmese expatriates to join our tax boycott on or before Friday, August 21,
to exercise their civil rights and to show their support for their elected
government of Burma, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for
Democracy, and to increase pressure on the junta to respect the August 21
deadline for convening the parliament democratically elected in 1990.
For more information contact Kyaw Lun Tin at +81-3-3312-6099, Kyaw Kyaw Soe
at +81-3-5567-2794 or <kyawkyaw@xxxxxxx> or Carol Schlenker at
+81-3-5993-4755 or <carol@xxxxxxx>.