The country where you can choose your tax rate

The country where you can choose your tax rate

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Mr Kantako's office is enormous, with chairs lining three walls. That's normal too, because in hierarchical Mali, people move around in delegations. The meeting involves a lot of niceties. Curiously, I am expected to provide the British government's position on the demands from Tuareg rebels for self-rule in northern Mali.

''Err… Britain just wants peace,'' I say, limply. All my energy is going on trying to suppress my delight at paying 3% income tax.

''Now then.'' The tax boss asks Mr Kante to brief him about my case. Both men pore over a calculator and come up with a figure of 236,160 francs ($380, £260).

''Hmm, I would like to have seen a rounder figure,'' says Mr Kantako eventually. ''And the pound is strong – I think we would like 300,000 francs ($485, £327) from you.'' He gives me the same open look as you get when buying almost anything in Mali. As much as to say: “That's my offer what's yours?”

''Oh, and we'll want that in cash,'' he says, “but you will be given a receipt.”

Mr Kante offers some explanation as we go back downstairs. ''Eighty per cent of Mali's economy is informal,” he says. “The government believes the 3% rate will attract more tax payers. What people don't realise is that, as things stand, we struggle to raise 1% or 2%. So this new rate represents something of an increase!''

By that reckoning, the Malian tax authorities have actually done quite well out of me.

Perhaps because I had – strangely – volunteered to pay tax, a basic sense of fairness stood in the way of the staff putting me into the 30% bracket, where perhaps I belong.

As I leave, so does the man with the ram. Except the ram remains tied to the railings.

''Monsieur!'' I call out. He turns around.

''Your ram?''

He shakes his head. “No, no, I've had to give it to them,” he says matter-of-factly, and walks away.

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