23 August 2012

Uganda: MPs Push for Free Access to Water

Water is an essential commodity whose access should, as much as it is feasible, be free like oxygen and fresh air, Members of Parliament have said.

A section of MPs who are members of the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (UPF-WASH) argue that while there are costs incurred in the production and transportation of clean water, the ideal is for Ugandans to access it without pay.

"Water is a necessity in life which should have been provided even for free like oxygen and air so that everyone can access it," Amongin Jacqueline, the chairperson of the forum stated.

Amongin, the Ngora Woman MP jointly addressed journalists at Parliament with her deputy, Ephraim Biraaro Ganshanga.

The MPs said they were alarmed by the Government proposal to levy 18% VAT on piped water which was already expensive and inaccessible to many Ugandans.

Amongin noted that utmost water should be sold to consumers at the cost of production because imposing a tax on it makes out of reach for more citizens who are deprived of their right to fresh and clean water.

"All MPs should push to scrap tax on water to zero level so that when we talk about accessibility, everybody can," Amongin urged.

UPF-WASH in a statement issued afterwards pointed out that the continued limited access to clean and safe water has condemned many Ugandans to water borne diseases like dysentery and diarrhea. "Water shortage mostly in urban areas that use piped water tends to work against hygiene and sanitation," the statement explained.

The Forum observed that high cost of water could affect productivity of factories that use it as an input and a spike in prices of products.

On his part, Biraaro said at sh100 -sh200 per jerrycan water is already expensive and unaffordable to many users.

Last week Government succumbed to pressure from the public and cries of MPs and withdrew its proposal to reinstate tax on piped water. Finance and Uganda Revenue Authority officials told MPs on the Finance Committee that the executive had agreed that the proposal to reintroduce 18% VAT on water was unpopular.

"We listened to your recommendations and realized that this tax will be a burden to the consumer. We decided to drop the tax wholly," Lawrence Kiiza, the Director Economic Affairs at Ministry of Finance told MPs.

During the Budget speech, the Minister of Finance Maria Kiwanuka said Government had reintroduced the tax in order to widen the tax base, a year after it had zero rated it. As result, Kiwanuka said, Government would realize over sh20b in taxes. The policy was supposed to take effect on July 1, 2012.

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