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Economic duty of the citizen

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THE CHINESE word for danger also means opportunity. In every risky situation there is an opportunity to make positive gain.

In a modern society opportunities are basically created by interactions among citizens and between the citizen and the State.

It is worth mentioning that all the State players are also citizens though not all citizens are direct State players. Ancient philosophers like Plato and Socrates as well as modern thinkers have since antiquity written a lot about the ideal relationship between the State and the citizen.

While most essays and articles on the interaction between the State and the citizen have had political bias, in recent times there have been scholars who have endeavoured to interrogate the role of the economic or business citizen to the State.

The late United States President JF Kennedy said at his inauguration: “Ask not what your country can do for you . . . ask what you can do for your country.” His argument was that the idea that the government is a super entity that must offer something to the citizen while the citizen is passively receiving from the former is a misplaced notion.

Ever since JF Kennedy made that Statement there has been much academic activity dedicated to informing the citizen and the State on how they should interact to ensure an improvement in societal welfare.

The economic citizen has a greater role to play in a modern nation State than the economic citizen of the past because modern States, nations and economies primarily relate to each other through firms, companies or business organisations.

Countries like China and Russia are actively promoting the commercial activities of their corporations in their countries through international commodity agreements and other types of treaties. The US has business interests all over the world, no wonder why it is concerned with promoting their own version of governance or democracy worldwide.

The Anglo-Americans and other powerful world players have gone to the extent of waging protracted and vicious wars in weaker countries so as to open new markets and production space for their corporations or commercial entities.

Since there is no relationship between any two entities which is a one-way street, the State expects the corporate citizen to contribute to the survival and even flourishing of the modern developmental State. There are basically three core duties that the State expects the modern corporation to play to ensure the communal benefit of society.

First businesses are expected to pay taxes to the government. Most formal firms play this role satisfactorily, but there is room for improvement. It is interesting to observe that those businesspeople that are inconsistent in paying taxes to the government are sometimes at the forefront of criticising the same over the existence of potholes, uncollected garbage and lack of social amenities or facilities for the recreation or leisure of citizens.

Numerous studies have been conducted by scholars of many countries about revenue leakages occasioned by smuggling, under-invoicing of goods and services in international trade and other forms of corruption. If these commercial vices were to be nipped in the bud, the modern State would have more resources at its disposal to avail social and commercial services to facilitate production in an economy.

The second duty of the modern firm or corporate citizen is that of availing to the populace goods and services that are of high quality. This implies that business citizens must never dump expired goods through a promotion or sale on the market or society because this militates against the State’s primary objective of improving living standards of the general population.

The third duty of economic citizens is that of corporate social responsibility, corporate social integrity or corporate social investment. Both individual and corporate economic citizens must take it upon themselves to identify talent among the socially-vulnerable and downtrodden classes of society and develop such talent through scholarships, attachments, internships and donations.

In Zimbabwe though, the economic environment has for a long time been adverse due to a multiplicity of factors existing companies have tried by all means to complement efforts of universities, colleges and institutes in attaching students in need of work-related learning or industrial attachment. Companies such as Econet and some mines have gone to the extent of providing scholarships and bursaries to students with high potential through their charity arms.

This is to be commended and other companies are encouraged to do the same because in giving or ploughing back to society there is great reward in terms of goodwill, improved pool of manpower and a consistent market in future.

 Ian Ndlovu is an economics lecturer based at the National University of Science and Technology. His research interests cover business, development, economic and e-commerce issues. He writes in his personal capacity.

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