BY HAILE HABTEGABER
The first obligation of good journalism is to the truth based on verifiable facts. Of course, the journalist may be biased due to own personal believes. But he/she cannot be allowed to get away with being dishonest with the facts.
And to demonstrate this obligation, he/she should lay down the verifiable facts for the interlocking public to make its own informed decision about the truth in terms of the context, interpretation, comment, criticism and debate. I concede, to be interested and take part in good faith for the furtherance of the lives people is legitimate.
However, in the past few months and bizarrely enough, a number of the Dutch media have shown unprecedented interest in reporting about the 2% Recovery and Rehabilitation Tax (aka Diaspora tax) with abusive and condescending language like never before and all for the wrong and malicious reasons.
In spite of the fact that the 2% diaspora tax is a legally and officially implemented Eritrean Government policy, some Dutch outlets have caricatured and depicted it as the long arm of government to intimidate and control community members of the Eritrean diaspora in the Netherlands.
Invariably, these reports have been vehemently enmeshed in painting the 2% tax as something sinister and as an instrument of abuse. In some instances, the reporting has been given prime time TV slots and pasted to fill news paper’s white pages.
Yes, to expose and report crimes in the interest of the public is right. What is not right is a hyped journalism based on concocted specious information sourced from anonymous and faceless individuals although Eritrea does not have invisible enemies.
Certainly, a reporter can have his/her opinion about the 2% tax either way. What he/she cannot do is to report without checking the specific facts whether intimidation, threats, extortion and harassment has indeed take place.
In a society that markets itself as free and liberal, public journalism is considered to be its watchdog. But being a watchdog requires telling the TRUTH grounded on verifiable facts. Instead, systematic bias and pathetically vindictive reporting has been the standard. In this regard, one cannot also forget the defamatory report on the hoax sexual abuse alleged to have taken place at the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Rotterdam and the cruel characterization of our annual cultural festivals as fund raising events for seditious terrorist activities.
Those who produce such reports are not fools. They seem to be part of meticulous scheme designed to damage our collective reputation which we cherish and are proud of. This problem is compounded by the disposition of the targeted audience to merely jump over the wagon without rational debate and willingness to go beyond the hyped unfounded assertions.
It is, therefore, in the context of this falsified vilification, politicized and deliberate misinformation that it is deemed it essential to put the record straight and enlighten the public and the media agencies involved in the dissemination of the uncorroborated and misleading information. The Dutch public has the right to be told the TRUTH and ONLY THE TRUTH about this issue. Below is a brief explanation of the essence of the 2% tax and this will be followed by what is thought to the best procedure to find the TRUTH for the public to judge for itself.
The 2% Eritrean Diaspora Tax
The 2% diaspora tax is a volitional contribution geared to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Eritrean economy which has been totally devastated due the 30 plus years of war of liberation. Its precursor is the active multifaceted involvement of Diaspora Eritreans in the struggle for Eritrean independence. Regardless of geography, Diaspora Eritreans had been acutely involved in the liberation struggle during those very challenging and difficult 30 years. They invested immensely in the delivery of financial, material, diplomatic and supportive activities to the realisation of Eritrea’s independence. Even today as Eritrea strides forward as an independent sovereign state, their resolve and commitment to discharge this patriotic responsibility continues manifestly.
It was this contextual fact that led to the initiative of 2% tax in early 90’s by diaspora Eritreans as the country was emerging from the ashes of the war. This endeavor was a clear testimony of the desire, good will and laudable foresight of diaspora Eritreans to do their part in helping the country eradicate poverty without succumbing to aid dependence which largely has been a failure story.
It was relaunched by act of the National Assembly as a voluntary policy instrument through official government proclamation in 1994. The policy stipulates that every Eritrean diaspora citizen is entitled to all rights and privileges that citizenship bestows and at the same time is required to fulfill what citizenship obliges.
This is perfectly congruent with the universally accepted policy principle of enjoyment of inalienable rights and the discharge of concomitant obligations that citizenship entails.
Let it be crystal clear though that this provision is anchored on the principle of own volition and is required only when a diaspora citizen wants to avail himself/herself of any legal or otherwise administrative services. This is the absolute TRUTH nothing more and nothing less.
The axiom “rights and duties are the two sides of the same coin’’ perfectly summarizes the essence of the 2% Eritrean diaspora tax.
Purpose and Objective:
As indicated above, the sole purpose and objective of this levy has been and continues to be to help the people of Eritrea in rebuilding their war shattered lives and revive the ruined economy of the country albeit in a small way.
For a clear perspective and in essence, the 2% Eritrean diaspora tax can be compared to the European Cohesion Fund by which the weak links of Euro Zone countries’ economies are and continue to be financed and bailed out by the richer economies of the union – a net transfer of enabling funds just as the 2% diaspora tax.
Another analogous example is the pledged flow of enabling funds of the 1% of GDP of the rich industrial countries to the poor countries notwithstanding the flagging commitment and paucity of success story.
Then what makes the 2% Eritrean diaspora tax expended for expanding social services including schools, clinics and roads undesirable? In point of fact, it ought to be applauded and replicated in many countries the likes of Eritrea. It is an aberrant act to untruthfully politicize this far-sighted social policy formulated for a nobler cause.
It has been and continues to be that any payment relating to the 2% tax is not only absolutely legal but is also effected at the request and personal initiative and own accord of the individual person involved.
No harassment or coercion on the part of the responsible consular staff is warranted. All payments are transparent legally effected with valid documentation bearing Eritrean government seals and signatures of executing officials. All payments are recorded and payees are provided with valid official receipt as proof of payment. All payments whether paid in cash or electronically are deposited in the Consular official bank account. Clearly this is as transparent as noontime sun shine. Does this deserve the slur and despicable characterization it has been subjected to? For heaven’s sake why the lie!
The 2% Diaspora tax and the Media in the Netherlands
Notwithstanding, the Netherlands government positive stance on the legality of the 2% Eritrean diaspora tax, of late some Dutch media outlets seemed to have folded their sleeves to pour quite miss-informative narration in a defamatory fashion. These media outlets have specifically alleged that the Eritrean Consulate General continues to collect monies from diaspora Eritreans through intimidation, threat and criminal extortion tactics.
What should be made abundantly clear here and stated loudly is, the demand for veracity is absolute. We simply say prove this with veracious evidence that any staff member of the office has intimidated, threatened or in any way harassed any person to make him/her coercively pay the 2% tax. If this would transpire to be the case, then and only then will the office shoulder the burden of accountability and face the consequences.
By all means such a grotesque allegation is a prosecutable crime punishable by the most appropriate stringent statutory legal provisions. Needless to say, a wrongful action such as this, must be brought before the Dutch Prosecution Service so that the culprit faces the full weight of the Dutch criminal justice system.
Short of that, there is no remedy for the alleged “claims of victimization”. And short of undertaking a task to get to the bottom of this allegation, the Eritrean Consulate General’s reputation remains wrongfully damaged and the Dutch public effectively misinformed. If this egregious allegation continues to be recycled and persists unresolved once and for all, it must be taken to be unfair and discriminatory hidden malicious agenda against the office. The demand for fact-based reporting on which all could be held accountable cannot be emphasized.
The fundamental question here is given the prolific media portrayal of the alleged criminal acts on the part of the Eritrean Consul General, why is it that no one – not a single individual – has been subpoenaed and brought to face justice in any of the Netherlands courts?
After all, it is claimed that Netherlands is a democratically governed country where all civil liberties are judiciously guarded and entitlement to legal remedy of the wronged party is the natural course of action. The purported allegations are serious and criminal in nature. But even more serious is the allegation that the Eritrean Consul General in Den Haag is personally and directly involved in this disgraceful act. Inevitably, the inescapable question for a non-gullible mind is “IS THIS TRUE?’’
If these outlandish allegations of intimidation, threats and extortion are to be reported as truths, then they must pass the acid test questions:
“when did this happen”, where did this happen? Who is the victim? Did he/she reported to the police because such behaviors are considered acts of crime in this country? What did the police do? Who is the offending official?
Only answers to these simple questions would tell the TRUTH.
People in this country have the right to be told the truthfulness of the allegation in full and they expect justice to be served and the perpetrators to have their day in court. In a society that prides itself to be democratic, open and liberal, the self-styled victims should at the very least demand legal redress for being aggrieved. Yet, extraordinarily enough, court indictment is conspicuously absent while derision and deliberate misrepresentation continues unabated. Is it because what has been alleged never took place and therefore there is no concrete evidence permissible in the court of law?
As the learned American prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi argues, there can’t be criminal conviction without “corpus delicti, i.e., the body or elements of crime’’ which is precisely the case here. Or is it because this deceptive allegation has no legal legs to stand on but good enough to vilify Eritrea and its government?
Furthermore, the second inevitable question is, given this serious allegation, what are the journalistic reporting standards employed by the media agencies that have been involved in reporting this case? Needless to say there are quite a number of ethical, moral and intellectual standards universally accepted in addition to editorial guidelines that news organisations may employ to augment their reporting standards.
For the sake of brevity, it would be deemed adequate that the following simple baseline standards would suffice for common understanding of this case here in lieu of the plethora standards that good journalism espouses. For that reason, the media agencies should at least accept the following as underpinning their reporting on the alleged acts of intimidation, threat and harassment committed by the Eritrean Consul General:
- Transparency, reporting without prejudice (no opinion of volitionally paying interviewees has been include in the reports – a clear case of disfranchisement).
- Detachment , objectivity and neutrality
- Rejection of information that lacks veracity and credibility
- Rejection of information that fails to meet the requirements of the rules of evidence to reach a just verdict
- Sanctity of hearing the defendant’s version of the issue
In closing, one can say this: although the Dutch media outlets that have been reporting on the 2% Eritrean tax with commitment to public interest, they have remarkably failed to get it right. Evidently they have been neither objective nor bias free in their methodology. All has been one-sided story.
Yet, in pursuit of the truth, objective methodology is a critical tenet to appropriately investigate the issue at hand. Sadly this has been missing in almost all the reports.
Remarkably, there has been not a single case of intimidation, threat or harassment reported to the police in respect of the 2 % tax in spite of the countless innuendos and denigrating narrations recycled by all sorts of traitors, fake experts and pseudo human rights activists. Then, would it be too much to advise these media outlets either to put up or shut up?