The reduction of poverty, and more recently inequality, are pressing concerns in many low- and middle-income countries, not in the least as a result of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) committing countries to significant improvements by 2030. Redistribution is important for reaching these goals, and is shaped by countries’ tax and welfare systems. Despite redistribution resulting from the simultaneous effect of revenue collection and public expenditures, policies and analyses of their distributional effects have largely been undertaken from narrow and singular perspectives.
Around 1400 years ago, a system of social security was introduced which turned semi-barbaric, desert faring Arabian tribes into one of the most prosperous and advanced nations in the world. This social security system involves transfer of surplus wealth from the rich to the poor to alleviate poverty in a sustainable way so that all people can enjoy their legitimate rights to live with safety and dignity. This groundbreaking economic system is called Zakat.
Mentioned in the Holy Quran 28 times along with Salat, Zakat is considered as one of the fundamental pillars of Islam and an indispensable instrument of the Islamic society. The wealth of Zakat should be distributed in such a way so that the receivers can bring significant changes to their lives and livelihoods. There is no way of considering Zakat as a tax, alms or donation; rather, in the Quran, Zakat has been stated as the indisputable right of the poor, needy and some specific categories of people. Poverty: Dimension and Extent of its Elimination
Poverty is an enemy of human being; it humiliates and dehumanizes its victim as Ukpong (1996) in Daniel et.al (2009), rightly noted. Poverty has been a serious challenge to governments. Its effect which includes lack and deprivation in the basic necessities of life is difficult, the condition will be worst even if fuel subsidy removal stands still. Poverty eradication efforts in countries and culture centered on education, which was seen as the key to economic, technological and intellectual development of man. The causes of this state of poverty in the countries had variously been traced to, among other factors: corruption, bad governance, debt overhang, unemployment, low productivity, burgeoning population growth, globalization, unfocused government policies, and lack of effective skills training, among others. The tax regime is critical for private and public sector development, economic growth, poverty alleviation and other public services. Poverty is an issue that needs special attention by the government of any state. It is for this reason the policy of the governments against poverty is tailed towards enabling the poor and more vulnerable sections of the society to achieve sustainable livelihood. The approach is to economically empower communities, families, and individuals through a sustained, well coordinated and comprehensive program of poverty alleviation. Daniel (2005) said, an appropriate poverty strategy should: a) provide all persons with the opportunity to earn a sustainable livelihood; b) implement policies and strategies that promote adequate and sustainable levels of funding, and focus on integrated human development policies, including income generation, increased local control of resources, local institution strengthening capacity-building, greater involvement of non-governmental organizations and local levels of government as delivery mechanisms; c) develop all poverty-stricken areas through integrated strategies and programs of sound and sustainable management of the environment, resource mobilization, poverty eradication and alleviation, employment and income generation; d) create a focus in national development plans and budgets on poverty alleviation in human capital, with special policies and programs directed at rural areas, the urban poor, women, and children; e) establish appropriate infrastructure and support system to facilitate the alleviation of poverty by implementing projects, programs, enterprises, and life styles sustainable at the grass roots level.Taxes and Transfers impact poverty and inequality
A popular maxim says “Government is finance and finance is government” (Sani, 2005). Fiscal policy can be harnessed to reduce inequality, but until now, people are unaware of its ability to reduce poverty. Recent empirical studies reveal that revenue and spending of governments across some selected low and middle income countries (Armenia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Indonesia, Jordan, Russia, South Africa and Sri Lanka), the fiscal systems, while nearly always reducing inequality, can often worsen poverty. The results show that the reduction in inequality induced by the cash portion of the fiscal system is quite varied, net direct taxes were always equalizing, indirect taxes and subsidies also had an equalizing effect.
If policymakers are committed to ending poverty and improving the lives of their poorest citizens, they need to explore ways to redesign taxation and transfers so that the poor—especially the extremely poor—do not end up paying more than their fair share without reaping the benefits.
While the cash portion of the net fiscal system had a positive impact on reducing inequality, the same could not be said for poverty. Studies also indicate that the poor in Armenia and Ethiopia, and the moderate poor in Sri Lanka are net payers into the fiscal system. This is because of high consumption taxes on basic goods. For the in-kind portion of the fiscal system, the set of case studies show us that spending on education and health was equalizing and contributed largely to reducing inequality. This result is not surprising given that the use of government services is monetized at a value equal to average government cost. These results are also encouraging for those who care about equity, it is important to note that they may be due to factors one would prefer to avoid. The higher use of government education and health facilities by the poor may be caused by the fact that the middle-class (and, of course, the rich) chose to use private providers, which often provide higher-quality services. This situation leaves the poor with access to what may be second-rate services. In addition, if middle-class people opt out of public services, they may be much more reluctant to pay the taxes needed to improve both the coverage and quality of services than they would be if services were used universally.
There are a few key lessons that emerge from the recent studies. First, the fact that specific fiscal interventions can cancel each other out underscores the importance of taking a coordinated view of both taxation and spending rather than pursuing a piecemeal analysis. Efficient regressive taxes (such as the value-added tax) when combined with generous well-targeted transfers can result in a net fiscal system that is equalizing. Second, to assess the impact of the fiscal system on people’s standard of living, it is crucial to measure the effect of taxation and spending not only on inequality but also on poverty. For instance, efficiently-designed regressive taxes can increase poverty even if combined with progressive transfers if the transfers aren’t large enough to compensate the poor. Finally, policymakers can learn one fundamental lesson, governments should design their tax and transfer systems so that the incomes (or consumption) of the poor after taxes and transfers are not lower than their incomes (or consumption) before fiscal interventions. In short, fiscal policy should help improve the welfare of the least well-off, rather than pushing them into poverty or deepening their deprivation.
It remains a crude fact that in order to be able to find enough resources to ensure public services, such as education and health for all, poor countries need to raise more tax, and raise tax in ways that are progressive and fair. As Tax Policy in developing countries has been heavily influenced by the IMF and national elites, this has had a negative impact in many cases, with a focus on indirect regressive taxation like VAT, and extensive tax incentives for companies.
Therefore tax management is strongly related to poverty alleviation. The management should work very hard to improve the effort of tax management in the state in order to increase the volume of proceeds accruable from tax, should strictly adopt and follow the requirements of tax management as stipulated by its policies instead of discriminating and favoring those with connections to those in government. The governments should also look at the laws currently in use and think of making amendment where necessary some of the laws that are more or less important based on the current trend of information and communication technology. Tax Measures: Key Tools for Poverty Reduction
The tax system is a powerful tool for redistributing wealth. Reducing the gap between rich and poor is a moral and ethical imperative; it is also vital to restoring a healthy balance to a market-based economy. The market does not do very well at sending signals about what should be produced unless those with lower incomes have sufficient resources to create the effective demand for goods and services that meet their basic needs. When wealth becomes too strongly concentrated in the hands of a few, consumer demand weakens, with disastrous consequences for job creation and economic growth. As Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks made clear in ‘The Trouble with Billionaires’, wealth concentration also under-mines democracy by enabling those with great wealth to influence government policies in ways that benefit themselves to the disadvantage of the majority. The tax system already helps take an unfair share of resources from the rich and channel those resources to the poor.
Tax policy can have a huge impact on inequality and poverty reduction, either positively or negatively, depending on what tax policies a country decides to implement. Taxation is also often at the heart of the social contract between citizens and their government, and progressive taxation is central to creating strong, democratic, and effective states and to making sure the richest bear the biggest burden. As a percentage of GDP, rich countries collect in many cases more than twice as much public revenue (including taxes) as developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the average is 18 per cent of GDP compared to 38 per cent in Western European countries. Developing countries’ tax and regulation policies have often been imposed, or at least strongly recommended, by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions (IFIs) as a condition of their financial support. This reduces the capacity of these nations to openly decide between different policy options, as well as their capacity to control and reduce capital flight and tax dodging. Historically, the IMF have consistently favoured economic efficiency and short-term collection goals over other objectives, often promoting taxes that are easiest to collect, with the lowest political costs, and that least affect the interests of companies and the rich. Such tax policies are not necessarily the most suitable for developing countries. However, recent papers from the IMF show promising signs that this approach may be changing and that they may now be ready to take a more progressive stance on taxation policy. One particularly noticeable feature of tax reforms in the developing world over the last three decades has been the emphasis on indirect taxes, in particular VAT (value added tax) on consumption. Taxes on consumption (mainly VAT) have generally become the main source of tax revenue for developing countries and economies in transition. In Africa and the Asia Pacific region, indirect taxes grew from 4.6 per cent of GDP in 1990 to 5.4 per cent in 2002, while in Latin America and the Caribbean they increased from 4.1 per cent to 8.8 per cent. For reasons linked to ‘economic efficiency’, VAT was the preferred choice of international reformers. The assumption was that VAT would create the opportunity to broaden the tax base, reaching all goods in the formal sector without distorting productive processes. This doctrine has found its way into the loan and aid conditions laid down by the IMF and World Bank in many developing countries. One clear part of this approach was abandoning the previous IMF doctrine that, by making the rich pay more than the poor, tax itself could be used to reduce inequalities. In fact the opposite is often the case. This is because the poor consume more of their income than the rich, who have savings. This makes VAT and other consumption taxes often regressive, hitting the poorest hardest.
Instead the IMF promoted VAT and other consumption taxes, believing that wealth redistribution would occur mainly through public spending, paid for by tax revenue. This stands in contrast to all developed nations, where tax collection plays a direct and key role in tackling inequality by ensuring the richest sections of society pay more tax than the poorest. There has been an attempt in many countries to exempt some basic goods from VAT that are used mainly by the poor, such as soap or food. Often VAT exemptions have also been made on agricultural products where the rural sector is often very important. Nevertheless, the general impact of implementing consumption taxes on inequality and the redistribution of wealth, was not carefully analyzed in all cases, and nor was the negative effect on the poorest sectors fully anticipatedBringing the informal economy into the tax system
The challenge is to determine whether a legitimate motivation – such as increasing tax revenue in developing countries – may lead to policies that exacerbate poverty and increase the vulnerability of certain sections of the population. This is because often those working in the informal sector are some of the poorest, for example women who run small businesses selling vegetables or other goods.
It is therefore crucial to distinguish between different types of informal sector actors in order to achieve a political solution that is just and consistent with the fight against poverty and inequality. Gradual formalization of the economy must be the aim and is positive in the long-term. However, measures taken to tax the more vulnerable, informal economy or enforce regulations are often arbitrary and fail to deal fairly with conflicting interests. Domestic institutional weaknesses are chiefly due to tax administrations’ lack of capacity. Poor co-ordination between different offices makes it difficult to properly penalize non-compliance. Institutional weakness promotes abuse and corruption in both the public and private sectors. It is also exacerbated by lax international regulations which tend to favour multinational companies. As a result, poorly-equipped tax administrations lose revenues and the people who do pay tax also lose out. Linking taxation and social protection
Reducing poverty would also lead to savings on health costs, criminal justice and increased tax revenue. Increased tax revenue resulting from increased labor force participation rates would also help to offset the costs of poverty reduction expenditures. And there would be many other savings that could be realized in government expenditures on health and criminal justice, just to name a few. While an up-front investment in poverty reduction is required, there would be big returns on that investment in many ways including a healthier society, economic growth and increased tax revenue. There are risks inherent in replacing all existing social assistance programs with a basic income as some people living in poverty could end up in a worst situation. Implementation of Zakat and its Impact on Poverty eradication
Except Zakat all other four Pillars are individual acts of Muslims and God has advised Muslims to perform them so that they can have blessings of this life and life hereafter otherwise they will be punished. Zakat, however, is also an individual act but its significance is highlighted by the fact that God has not left it upon individuals rather God has instructed the ruler/government to collect Zakat from Sahib e Nisaab, as stated in Holy Quran,“Take alms out of their wealth, so that thou mayest cleanse them and purify them thereby.”(Surah Al-Tawbah, 103)
The significance of this decree is very wide ranging, as Zakat is an integral part of Islamic economic system and is cure to the economic inequality. To maintain a balance in economy it is necessary that people having wealth should transfer some of their wealth to those who don’t have enough wealth. For that, state mediation is necessary to make sure that no one runs away from his responsibility and no one is left underprivileged.
If properly managed Zakat system will achieve its objectives and Muslims can revive their economy and society through proper implementation of Zakat system, the proposed system is no short term solution to problem rather it will require patience to achieve its objectives. Government legislation and motivation is very important in this regard as government will have to give authority to Amils (Zakat management employees) through public notice to evaluate and collect Zakat. Legislation for those who don’t pay Zakat is also necessary and should include heavy fines and punishment for repeated offences. Public campaign regarding importance and benefits of Zakat via prominent scholars and Amils on local scale can motivate people to pay Zakat.
Zakat has been a successful tool for the reduction or even complete eradication of poverty as during the time (13-22H) of second Caliph of Islam Hazrat Umar Bin Khattab (R.A) and during time (99-101H) of Umer bin Abdul Aziz, the condition of people during that time was so prosperous that there was no eligible recipient of Zakat. It is a proven fact from history that if properly managed Zakat can be a model to alleviate poverty.
Implementation stage for any devised model is very critical to its success; flawlessly designed models flop due to their improper execution, similar is the case with Zakat, and no doubt the model of Zakat is flawlessly devised and taught to humanity by ALLAH through Prophet MUHAMMAD (Peace be upon him), its implementation however has been left upon us. History suggests many economies in different parts of the world have successfully implemented Zakat system and have achieved benefits of Zakat, one of which is poverty reduction .On the contrary, after colonial era, Islamic economics as a whole has become redundant and Zakat system has also suffered. Several models of Zakat have been implemented in the world, some of them became successful but some didn’t succeed due to improper planning/execution. Historically Zakat has been collected, managed and disbursed by the Islamic governments but after colonial era Zakat has gone through several challenges which has resulted in different models emerging, some countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Libya & Sudan have made Zakat Management compulsory through state institutions but some countries like Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Bangladesh has although formed some institutions for Zakat collection, but it is voluntary act of citizens to submit Zakat there or not .Evolution of Zakat Management Systems
The first system of Zakat was implemented by Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him), the system was basically a centralized state managed system revolving around Amils, they were designated personnel appointed by Prophet MUHAMMAD (Peace be upon him) to collect Zakat from Sahib e Nisaab and disburse to eligible recipients. The whole Zakat management system was very simple in terms of organization and management but was up to the mark with modern principles focused on transforming Mustahik (Zakat recipient) to Muzakki (Zakat payer). The reign of First Caliph Abu Bakar Siddique (R.A.) was a short one from 632- 634 A.D., he continued the rules, regulations and management system devised by Prophet MUHAMMAD (Peace be upon him) without any modification however a major development in his rein was the war he fought against those who refused to give Zakat setting precedent for future generations regarding importance of Zakat in Islam.
The Era of Second caliph Umar Farooq (R.A.) is very important relating to Zakat as he made several modifications to system of Zakat through Ijtihad to coup up with changing economics of society. His reign was from 634-644 A.D., he set up the institution of Bait ul Mal or State Treasury for the management of Zakat funds.
The Era of third Caliph Hazrat Usman (R.A.) lasted from 644-655 AD, during his time the dynamics of economy further evolved and to keep up with changing dynamics he divided property in to two types i.e. Visible Property (Amwal al-zahiriah) and Non-Visible Property (Amwal al-Batinah), he made Zakat on Visible property compulsory to be paid through state institutions and Zakat on in-visible properties was left on individual’s desire.
After caliphate the major period in terms of Zakat management was the period of Umayyah Government headed by Umar bin Abdul Aziz, he restored original system of Amils with Governor of each province working as Amil, at that time the system of Zakat along with Islamic economics was so strong that the Governor of Egypt once asked Umar bin Abdul Aziz that what to do with Zakat funds as he was not able to find any eligible people who could receive Zakat. Umar bin Abdul Aziz replied “Buy slaves and let them free, build shelter for travelers to rest and help young men and women to get married.”Current Zakat systems in Muslim countries
In Indonesia, Zakat system is decentralized with private entities allowed to constitute bodies for Zakat management but recently due to conflict of interest Government has constituted BAZNAS to supervise and control independent Zakat bodies.In Malaysia Zakat system is decentralized and provinces are allowed to constitute their systems and manage them accordingly however an institute named MAIN supervises overall functions of Zakat. Pakistan has a centrally managed five tier Zakat system with Central, Provincial, District, Tehsil and Local Zakat Councils, on the basis of pre-defined quota Central Zakat Council disburses collected Zakat funds to lower councils. Similarly, in Sudan Zakat is compulsory for all citizens and is managed by state and is distributed through three channels i) Local Zakat committee’s ii) Committee for urgent cases and travelers iii) Committee for people in debt.
Centre for Zakat Management (CZM), a very active Zakat management organization (ZMO) in Bangladesh has come up with the goal to establish Zakat as a tool to alleviate poverty and discrimination in a sustainable way by proper utilization of Zakat funds. Established in 2008, CZM has launched various initiatives to distribute the Zakat funds to all segments of poverty-ridden and destitute people in our society.
CZM's flagship project called Jeebika is a livelihood and human development program through which about 15000 families of more than 21 districts have been engaged in different income generating activities with the help of Zakat fund. In principle, CZM officials transfer the Zakat fund to the Zakat recipients in two installments while providing them training on different need-based professions, enable them to access the market and provide support to manage the collective fund.
Besides, CZM has been running more specific poverty eliminating initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship, education, self-employment among the youth and women through skill development. CZM has taken the initiative to utilize Zakat fund to spread quality education among poor, underprivileged children. Every year, it provides scholarship to thousands of students all over the country and imparts capacity development training to them. It also has another dedicated pre-primary education program for the poor children living in urban slums and remote rural areas.
With its own pre-primary learning centers, CZM has been providing innovative learning equipment and nutritious food for the children. With another initiative called Ferdousi, CZM has started to utilize Zakat fund for the improvement of maternal and neonatal health. It provides free medicine and treatment by specialized doctors to pregnant and lactating mothers and organizes awareness-raising sessions in the least privileged communities.
Recent researches have premeditated that each year around BDT 30,000 crore of Zakat can be obtained from Bangladesh. Zakat, in fact, is an opportunity, a possibility for Bangladesh to fight poverty in a sustainable way. If this system of social security can be utilized effectively like the initiatives taken by CZM, it will be very possible for Bangladesh to break free from the vicious cycle of poverty and be a self sufficient, prosperous nation.
There are some striking commonalities between the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and Zakat. In the Islamic faith, five foundational goals – known as Maqasid al Sharia – include the protection of faith, life, progeny, intellect and wealth. Much of the SDGs – goals to alleviate poverty and hunger, improve health, education and access to water and sanitation, reduce inequality and protect the environment – are reflected in these Islamic values.Zakat is the only way to effectively fight poverty
Poverty in the simplest terms can be defined as a lack of basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter. In other words, it is the absence of the means, of course money, to fulfill those needs.
It is a matter of great concern that poverty is rampant in the Muslim world. What is the reason behind that and how to eradicate it? Muslim intelligentsia must think about this issue.
As a matter of fact, poverty among Muslims should have been nonexistent because Islam strongly advocates helping others and encourages philanthropy. As a matter of fact, Islam has created the institution to fight poverty. This is why Allah has put Zakat after Shahadah and Salat but before Fasting and Hajj. Social responsibility is considered part of one’s service to God; the obligatory act of Zakat enshrines this duty. Zakat prescribes payment of fixed proportions of a Muslim’s possessions for the welfare of the entire community and in particular for its neediest members. It is equal to 2.5 percent of an individual’s total net worth, excluding obligations and family expenses.
After understanding the concept of Zakat a bit, the question arises as to why then there be poverty among Muslims. Despite being rich in all kinds of natural resources and with a fairly large number of billionaires, majority of Muslims are living in poverty. Zakat on one billion dollars is around $30 million and this amount can go a long way in helping many to manage for food, clothing and shelter. Zakat can eradicate poverty and when you reduce poverty, corruption, social injustice, human trafficking, crimes and most importantly you can save the dignity of a human being.
There are many countries in the Muslim world that are rich in resources but poverty is beyond imagination. Somalia and Yemen are examples of how poverty is destroying the social fabrics. In the past, these two countries were the main food and livestock exporters of the region. We can also cite the examples of Iraq and Libya, which are two of the richest countries in natural resources and still people are suffering from poverty.
Poverty can be eradicated from the Muslim world if all Muslims start taking the institution of Zakat seriously, which is mandatory. It would be pertinent to mention here that Sadaqah is not obligatory but a form of charity that even the poor can give the poorer. Muslims around the world have simply forgotten the third pillar of Islam.
Zakat and Saqdah cannot only help eradicate poverty but can also bring people closer — not only Muslims but also even people from other faiths. Caliph Omar Bin Khattab helped an old Jew from the Bait Al-Mal. Omar Bin Al-Khattab once said: If poverty were a man, I would have killed him. It is a shame to see many cities across the Muslim World full of beggars, talking about those who are left with no other choice. It is our responsibility to fight poverty and Zakat is the Islamic solution to this problem.
Zakat provides the basis of Islamic social welfare and plays the role of solving problems such as poverty, unemployment, catastrophes, indebtedness and inequitable income distribution in a Muslim society, both at family, community and state levels. Although it is submitted that Zakat alone cannot provide cure to all socio-economic problems of the society, nonetheless, it is agreed that Zakat is prime and that it plays the most vital role in equitable distribution of wealth in any Muslim society for poverty reduction (Dogarawa, 2010). In the context of Bangladesh society at large
Whilst the government of Bangladesh is very keen on alleviating poverty, it is yet to underpin at the institutions of Zakat and tax regime as a national strategy for eliminating economic inequality. In Bangladesh, it has been claimed that mainstream economics has changed the poverty scenario in the name of microcredit; however, this policy does not really satisfy the social needs that ultimately could attack the inequality of a society. Zakat and Waqf funds can be used for other social needs like poverty reduction (Hassan & Khan, 2007). It is surprising that Zakat, an expressly designed poverty eradication tool, clearly prescribed in the Holy Quran and Sunnah, has not been attended to in proper perspectives, in all poverty alleviation plans and programs in Bangladesh, where more than 85% of the population are Muslims (Hossain, 2005). It would have been improving the human capital and specific programs for the poor and vulnerable. The latter programs could include providing education, health, sanitation, proper housing facilities, and social services that improve the welfare of the poor. The productive households are poor because they cannot use the full potential of their resources due to some constraints.
This Zakat money should not be distributed for immediate relief to the poor in the form of small cash or clothes in kind. Under consultation and approved guidance from the Shariah Council, the Zakat money can also be given in the form of small business purposes. For example, poor farmers can be given from this Zakat money to enable them to purchase the equipment and inputs they need to lift them out of poverty. The same can be done for small business owners, or for the poor to set up small workshops or factories to lift them out of poverty once and for all. Within a few years, poverty would be eliminated or at least reduced. Hence, Zakat could be a good mechanism for empowering the Muslim community and to eradicate poverty in the Muslim world (Hassan & Khan, 2007).
Zakat funds can be arranged for training and rendering assistance in finding gainful employment to those unemployed and looking for work in accordance with their ability. The specific programs would be providing support for education and skill development, provision of physical capital, and making available financial capital to start a business so that the poor can be productively employed and earn a living. For the unproductive population in the Bangladesh, the elderly, sick, widows, physical and mental handicapped are unable to support themselves or to attain a respectable standard of living by their own effort, the institution of Zakat should be able to provide them periodic stipend that enable them to consume the basic needs for poverty reduction.
Poverty is hunger; lack of shelter; being sick and not being able to see a doctor; not having access to school and not knowing how to read; not having a job, fear for the future, living one day at a time; losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water; powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom. Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time. Conceptually, Zakat must play a key role in alleviating poverty by mobilizing resources. Consequently, if any society wants to make it ridden of poverty, it is important to empower the community by insuring participation in Zakat, and community social work can play an important role to motivate the community to fulfill their responsibility in the payment of Zakat.
Finally, by integrating Zakat in the process of poverty alleviation, is a way of bringing spirituality in social work intervention repertoire. For a society such as Bangladesh where majority are Muslims, Zakat has to play a major role in the process of poverty alleviation. It is logical to integrate Zakat which has many spiritual implications as one of the major tools to mitigate the poverty issue. Social workers should not neglect the richness of the techniques and values that are in their religion and tradition.
Dr. Muhammad Abdul Mazid, Adviser, [embed=425,349]http://www.akkhan.com/dr-muhammad-abdul-mazid-adviser[/embed]