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Two Koreas’ leaders in mountain show of unity

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By AFP
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Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in visited the spiritual birthplace of the Korean nation Thursday for a show of unity after their North-South summit gave new momentum to Pyongyang’s negotiations with Washington.

The North Korean leader on Wednesday agreed to shutter the Tongchang-ri missile-testing site in the presence of international observers, a move the US welcomed by saying it was ready for immediate talks aimed at denuclearising the North.

Pyongyang also said it could dismantle its best-known nuclear facility at Yongbyon, if the US takes “corresponding measures”, as Kim and the South Korean president held their third summit this year.

It is an important caveat, but the declaration appeared to break the logjam in nuclear discussions with Washington.

President Donald Trump welcomed the move, tweeting that Kim had “agreed to allow Nuclear inspections, subject to final negotiations”, adding: “Very exciting!”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also praised the “important commitments”, saying he invited his North Korean counterpart to meet next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, and representatives of both sides to meet “at the earliest opportunity” in Vienna — home of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Washington was ready to “engage immediately in negotiations” to achieve the North’s denuclearisation by January 2021, Pompeo added — the end of Trump’s first term.

The process had stalled after the historic Singapore summit between Trump and Kim in June, when Kim declared his backing for denuclearisation of the peninsula but no details were agreed.

Washington and Pyongyang have subsequently sparred over what that means and how it will be achieved, with the Trump administration consistently referring to the denuclearisation of North Korea specifically.

For its part, Pyongyang — which wants a formal declaration the 1950-53 Korean War is over — has condemned demands for its unilateral disarmament as “gangster-like”.

Experts remain sceptical, pointing out that closing Tongchang-ri, also known as Sohae, would have no impact on the North’s ability to manufacture rockets.

Pyongyang has used several other locations for missile launches and has repeatedly said it has no need for further testing.

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Many also believe that apart from Yongbyon, the North also has covert nuclear facilities.

“The North Koreans are offering gestures that mimic disarmament,” arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis tweeted. “They don’t meaningfully constrain North Korea’s nuclear programme.”

Their main purpose, he added, was “to appease Trump, so that Moon and Kim can keep their engagement alive”.

“This is what an Israel-style deal looks like with North Korea: They pretend to disarm and we pretend to believe it.”

Moon and Kim have sought to strengthen the North-South relationship at their Pyongyang summit, agreeing that the North Korean leader will visit Seoul “at an early date”.

It would be the first such trip by a North Korean leader since the Korean War ended in an armistice, leaving the peninsula divided by the Demilitarized Zone and technically still in a state of war, and Moon said the historic journey could happen later this year.

The two leaders also agreed to open a permanent facility for family reunions, work towards joining up road and rail links, and bid jointly for the 2032 Olympics.

At a performance of the North’s spectacular “Mass Games” propaganda display, Moon made an unprecedented address by a South Korean leader to a Northern crowd, telling them that Koreans had lived together for 5,000 years.

“I propose we move forward toward the big picture of peace in which the past 70-year-long hostility can be eradicated and we can become one again,” he said, prompting rapturous applause.

On Thursday, Moon and Kim, accompanied by their wives, visited Mount Paektu on the Chinese border.

The 2,744-metre (9,003-foot) peak is considered sacred to all Koreans as the birthplace of Dangun, the legendary founder of the first Korean kingdom.

According to Pyongyang’s narrative, it is also where Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jong Il was born, at a secret camp where his own father Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder, was fighting Korea’s Japanese colonial occupiers.



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19-year-old boy charged with defiling girl three years younger

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[Courtesy]

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A 19-year-old teenager is in trouble with authorities for allegedly defiling a 16-year-old girl.
Tyson Ongaki has been charged before a Kisumu Chief Magistrate’s court and accused of intentionally defiling the minor on various dates. The crime was allegedly committed in Bomet.
The teenager who appeared before Chief Magistrate Peter Gesora however denied the offence and has been released on a Sh100,000 bond.
The court heard that after committing the offense on diverse dates between March 26, 2021 and May 14, 2021, the teenager moved to Kisumu.
He has also been charged with committing an indecent act with a minor.
An investigating officer handling the matter told the court that the suspect was arrested in Kisumu.
The magistrate directed that the matter be heard on June 15, 2021.

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KRA must ease tax filing to boost revenues

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Nikhil Hira Independent tax consultant and Director Bowmans Coulson Harney (law firm). [Courtesy]

Anyone who has been following Kenya’s budgets over the last few years will recall headlines each year saying that the country has set its largest-ever budget. 
The upcoming 2021/22 fiscal year is no exception, with Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani announcing a budget of Sh3.6 trillion – yes, the biggest ever! A little over Sh2 trillion will come from government revenues, with approximately Sh1.8 trillion of this from tax revenues. 
The balance will be borrowed – another common feature of the last few years. 
This year’s budget comes amidst an economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the inherent assumption that the pandemic will come to an end before the start of the next financial year. 
Given surges in infections that are being seen globally, and indeed in Kenya, this assumption may well be the deal-breaker. 
The Ministry of Health has already said that Kenya may see another wave of infections in July, fuelled by the Indian variant. This could result in more lockdowns with the associated impact on the economy and indeed revenue collections. The lack of vaccines is an issue that the government must address as a matter of great urgency if the country is to get through the pandemic without further economic woes. 
While deficits in government budgets are not uncommon, Kenya seems to be annually widening the gap between expenditure and revenues. 
If one applies this model to their household budget, the upshot will almost certainly be bankruptcy. 

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What is actually required is curtailing recurring government expenditures, which is something that the government has acknowledged in the past with proposed austerity measures. 
The reality is that Kenya has not succeeded in doing this, and the pressure on revenue collection is exacerbated. 
When you add to the high level of wastage and corruption we are witnessing, the deficit will almost certainly continue to widen. 
The responsibility for tax collection and enforcement lies with the Kenya Revenue Authority better (KRA). 
There is no doubt that the authority has improved significantly in this task since it was set up in 1995. 
The taxman estimates that 4.4 million tax returns were filed by June 30 last year, up from 3.6 million in the previous year.  While this is a significant improvement, when compared to the country’s population, this number of returns seems unusually low. 
The increase in the number of tax returns, is to a large extent, due to the online reporting system, iTax, and a major push by KRA through taxpayer education.
There is no doubt that the online system has made filing tax returns significantly easier and gone are the large queues of people witnessed at Times Tower on deadline day. 
That said, there is still much to be done to make filing returns a seamless and painless exercise. 
System downtime during filing periods is something that all of us will have experienced, although, in typical Kenyan fashion, we inevitably wait until the last day to file our returns as we do with most things! 
The spreadsheet that one uses to file a return is by no means the simplest to use.  One key issue seems to be that taxpayers are not alerted to changes in the model until they try to upload a return. 
The spreadsheet does not allow one to make it more relevant to their sources of income – in essence, it is too rigid and inflexible. KRA should be able to rectify this without too much effort.
Last year was unusual in that different rates of tax were applicable in the first quarter as compared to the rest of the year.  This followed the Covid-19 relief measures that were introduced in April 2020. 
There was much debate about whether the changes were meant to apply for the whole year or whether some form of apportionment was needed. 
In the end, the decision was made for apportionment. One can argue about what the correct treatment should be, but the issue was how long it took for the decision to be made and, indeed, to amend the iTax system. 
The age-old notion has always been that the more complex and difficult it is to file a tax return, the more likely it will be that taxpayers simply won’t file their returns. While the issue with the system has been resolved, there is an inherent administrative issue here that must be addressed. 
KRA has to be significantly more proactive in dealing with changes in rates and law to ensure the least inconvenience to taxpayers. 
The writer, Nikhil Hira, is the Director of Bowmans Kenya.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Bowmans Kenya  

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BBI ruling: Nakuru MCAs criticise judges

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The leadership of Nakuru County Assembly has faulted the five-judge bench for declaring Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill illegal. Speaking at the assembly Monday, the ward reps said the verdict was contrary to the wishes of the residents.

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