19 June 2014

Uganda: Shift Focus to What Taxes Do


Many Ugandans are dissatisfied with this financial year's national budget proposals, noting the taxation of poor people's basic needs and the inexplicable taxes imposed on critical sectors such as tourism, agriculture and education institutions.

These are indeed legitimate concerns, deserving of a review, although understandably it's not possible to have a budget that makes everyone happy.

That leaves the minister of Finance's own advice the best fallback option. Maria Kiwanuka is reported to have told a post-budget workshop that Ugandans should focus on holding their government accountable.

In the Scandinavian countries, where taxes are some of the highest in the world, their people are comforted by the fact that their system is also one that guarantees almost all the basic needs of life, moreover of high quality.

It's therefore encouraging to read articles such as one in The Observer on Wednesday, where it was reported that pressure by residents of Kanungu district has yielded the fast-tracking of a road they have clamoured for since NRM came to power 28 years ago. The press has lately been awash with news stories about NRM leaders expressing concerns that failure by their government to deliver quality services will cost them the next election.

President Museveni himself witnessed what can happen when people are not happy, as his efforts in Luweero district failed to save his party from defeat in the recent by-election, with angry voters citing unfulfilled promises.

The president may have answered that he was not God to deliver everything at once, but you can bet his government will be scrambling to scale up some social services in Luweero to prevent further political damage in the coming elections.

A good political system must be responsive and sensitive to the people's needs. But that can't happen unless the people have the civic consciousness to demand quality services from the government that collects taxes in their name. The people must also be ready to ruthlessly punish a government that fails to put the taxes to good use.

With that, there will be less and less dissatisfaction with future budget proposals.

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