It is a long time ago now, 15 or 20 years. It was New Year’s Day. Together with many from the class of the rich and powerful in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, we had joined worshippers in the large Anglican Cathedral.

The Archbishop was the preacher. We had not expected that he would tell us that many of us were sinners, not just small sinners, as all are, but big ones. Because, he said, most of the tax avoidance, evasion and money laundering, too, were done by religious people and even strong believers. And in Kenyans, people are religious, belonging mainly to Christianity and Islam, but good numbers are Hindus and Sikhs belonging to the sizeable Asian minority in the land, often in charge of large industries, commerce and trade.

We should pay our dues to the state, the archbishop said. We should support the state so that it could support the poor segment of the population. We could afford it, just look at all the new cars parked outside the church, he said. And all those who came late and could not find space there, went across the street and parked them at the Nairobi Serena Hotel.

Many shrank in their benches as the Archbishop spoke. And the solution? Ask for forgiveness, correct the wrongs and go into the world again - and sin no more, as Jesus/Issa said about another sinner - the woman who had committed adultery. No, we should not condemn the sinner, perhaps not even judge him or her, but we should change and do what is right and good.

This was a while ago, but sadly, little has changed. If anything, inequality has grown in Kenya as in Pakistan, and the amounts of money hidden from the taxman have become larger. The rich have become richer and the poor poorer. The tax systems may have become better, but not to such an extent that the net catches the ‘big fish’. It mostly catches the ‘smaller fish’.

So one may ask: maybe, the rich and powerful, in politics, the civil service and the private sector, don’t want a system that removes the loopholes for tax avoidance, and makes for fewer evasions? When it happens, we would all get rid of the temptation and risk of cheating, and we would do what is right, share the burden with the poor and build the land together with the women who till the land and the men who sweat in the factories. And we would “save our soul” and do what the holy books tell us.

We have ended the second 10-day Ashura period of Ramazan, the time when we focus on “forgiveness”. Many tax evaders must ask for forgiveness - and “sin no more”.

To change the tax systems, and make the net so that it catches all the right ‘fish’, is not an easy task. Politicians promise solutions before elections, and I believe they mean it, too, and many civil servants try to do their best. But alas, to change and improve the tax systems, and to curtail corruption, is like a fight against the windmills: it is very difficult, even dangerous, but not impossible.

As in all spheres of life, to make practical changes require the right goals and objectives; yes, even a true and sincere faith, and furthermore, a solid moral and ideological foundation. We must believe in what we want to achieve and we must preach and debate the issues - and then we can move in the right direction, formulate the practical details and implement it all. Thus, to do the right thing is not only a religious imperative; it is rather a moral duty to ourselves and to society.

Many common services in a society must be provided by the state, such as security, law enforcement, roads, railways, airlines and other communication, education, health, assistance to mentally and physically handicapped, and more. Some services can have a user fee, but most of the cost must be paid for by the state, that is, citizens of the country paying through tax, fees, and duties from export and import, and in other ways.

Most countries have natural resources, such as minerals, oil and gas, and it is the duty of the government to charge local and foreign companies tax on profit, fees for licences, etc. The local community within a country often has right to a larger share of the outcome than the rest of the land, so that their natural resources are not just exploited, but can lead to sustainable livelihoods long after the foreign companies have left and the natural resources are gone.

The foreign telecommunications companies in the large mobile phone market in Pakistan have begun paying tax. But recently, the media reported that the major companies were questioned by the Pakistan Accountability Bureau (PAB) to ascertain that they pay right and fair tax amounts. This is just one example in the field. Others can be found in the gas and mineral industry in Balochistan, where foreign companies are operators. As time goes by, old agreements must be revised to suit new times and changed political and other circumstances, including today’s understanding of environmental issues.

Let me now again come back to the foundation of the argument of my article: that all good work, all tax thinking, must be based on high moral and ethical standards. It is only after those standards have been laid down that the practical aspects can be hammered out. We must “give to God what belongs to God and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” - meaning, the state and the revenue collecting bodies. And, indeed, they must develop fair systems so that not only salaried people pay, but also the loopholes for avoidance and evasion become less. The systems and laws must not be class laws, but equal for all.

Except for the overarching moral imperative for paying tax, the most important argument for all of us, small and big, is that through that we get a stake in society; the country will belong to us, and we will belong to the country, in a different way if we pay tax. We will be more concerned about how things develop; we will feel we have the right to voice our opinion and we will expect to be consulted when the leaders want to introduce major changes. This will warrant good, local government councils, too, so that we have appropriate channels for dialogue.

By the next Ramazan, we have an opportunity to have completed much of the debate about better tax systems. Many of us will still have to ask for “forgiveness” for not having done enough, since it is sinful not to pay tax. But we will be on the right track, not risking “fire”, or at least less of it, as is the focus of the last 10-day period of the holy month of Ramazan.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.