Persia/Chapter 8

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CHAPTER V.

OF THE SOURCES OF THE REVENUE OF THE STATE.

All the imposts paid by the subject, are included in the three denominations of malieh, sadeer, and peshkeesh.

The malieh are the taxes levied, in money or in kind, on land and towns. They are paid in kind, on corn, silk, cotton, and other articles of that sort; and in money, on vegetables, fruit, and other less considerable productions of the soil. These taxes were formerly only one-tenth, but are now one-fifth, of the produce: they are regulated by the number of oxen kept by the cultivator: thus, it is assumed that one ox is sufficient to do the work of a certain quantity of land, and this quantity is multiplied by the number of cattle. For the taxes in kind, the produce of a jureeb, or acre, is calculated, and the amount of the tax is deduced from this estimate.

The amount of the taxes paid by towns, is governed, not by the number of the inhabitants, but of the houses. In general, a town is taxed for a whole district, and its magistrates fix the quota to be paid by the dependent villages. The collector is called Moustoufee: it is his duty to keep a register of the value, the produce, and the annual amount of the taxes of the lands within his jurisdiction, and a regular statement of the receipts and disbursements made on account of government. The Kelaunter furnishes the troops with provisions, by giving an order countersigned by the Moustoufee on the Umbardar or keeper of the royal granaries: for in the various parts of Persia, there are royal granaries established for receiving the rents and taxes of government, which are entrusted to the management of an Umbardar. The Hakim, who is invested with the general control over these officers, enforces the claims of government either by punishing or confining the cultivators. These officers of course have under them a number of subordinate agents, who are dispersed among the different villages within the circuit of their authority, and make reports of all occurrences to their immediate superiors.

When government is in want of money, it applies to the Hakim, or to the Moustoufee, stating the sum required. These officers have a right to increase it for their own profit, and are at no loss for means of extortion. Besides, most of the offices of this kind are sold by government, and the price paid for them regulates the degree of oppression that is exercised: this practice is general, down to the very lowest stages. The whole body of collectors is a poisoned spring, and every stream that flows from it is infected. Let the payment of a certain sum be required of the humblest agent, and it matters not how it is levied: he has no other standard than his conscience. I have repeatedly seen, says Mr. Scott Waring, the servants of the prince's dependents enter a village and seize whatever they require, without making the smallest remuneration to the inhabitants. If the villagers evinced the least reluctance, they were threatened with the bastinado, the usual recompense which a poor man in Persia receives from his superior.

The sadeer is an arbitrary tax, raised on extraordinary occasions, such as the passage of a prince, grand dignitary, ambassador, or body of troops. The sadeer is fixed upon the same system as the malieh.

The presents which the governors are obliged to make to the king, at the festival of the Nowroose, or new-year's day, and called peshkeesh, are also levied upon the people.

From the preceding statement, it appears, that the cultivator is in the worst situation in Persia, and that the tradesman or shopkeeper fares much better. The latter pays a particular tax, it is true; but the merchant is not liable to any other than the duty of customs.

The customs are under the direction of several officers independent of one another, being farmed out by government to the highest bidder. No difference is made in favour of the produce of Persia, nor are the duties upon the manufactures of one country higher than upon those of another: but the rate is not invariable. At Bushire, the duty on goods imported into Persia amounts to about five per cent., and at Shiraz a duty of two and a half per cent. is levied. A caravan, going to any of the cities of Irak from Bushire, must pay the duties at Shiraz; if it passes Ispahan, at that city; and in short, at every city it may pass through, where duties are levied: so that, by the time it reaches the Caspian Sea, the merchants may probably have paid thirty per cent. on their goods.

The classes of people who pay the heaviest tax to government, are the female dancers and the votaries of pleasure. They exercise their professions under the immediate patronage of the governor: their names, ages, and places of abode, are carefully registered; and if one should die or marry, another instantly supplies her place. They are divided into classes agreeably to their merits and the estimation in which they are held, and each class inhabits separate streets.

Kinnier is of opinion that the revenue arising from land and merchandise does not exceed three millions sterling.