Government has increased license fees for individuals and companies importing firearms into the country.
Estimates of non-tax revenue (NTR) rates tabled before Parliament by the finance ministry show that gun importers and owners will part with Shs 5 million each.
Currently, any company which seeks a permit to acquire or import a firearm pays Shs 1 million per year. A private security company also pays Shs 200,000 for an application to import or acquire firearms.
The state minister for finance, David Bahati, told legislators on the Budget committee that the proposal forms part of the government's revenue enhancement measures. He added that they expect to raise Shs 2 billion in revenue, if Parliament gives a go-ahead to the proposal.
"We are rationalising the use of firearms as part of government's source of revenues by providing an increase in the fees for possession of guns. This has nothing to do with fighting crime but to enhance our revenues," Bahati explained.
In a separate interview with The Observer, Moses Ogwapus, the acting commissioner, Tax Policy, in the finance ministry, revealed that the policy change is going to be effected through a statutory instrument which will be issued by the Internal Affairs minister and Police.
"We are going to discuss in detail with the line minister because they may want to include other things. This is just an intention to vary the rates which are applicable and we have notified them," he said.
GUNS IN PRIVATE HANDS
According to information contained in the NTR rates report by the finance ministry, an annual firearm licensing for a pistol is Shs 60,000; rifle, Shs 48,000 and Shs 36,000 for a shotgun.
Under private security organization licenses, a gun dealer's license costs Shs 144,000, but government wants this raised to Shs 200,000. Statistics from the ministry of Internal Affairs place the number of guns legally in the hands of civilians or private security firms at 19,000. Out of these, 16,000 are in the hands of private security firms, while 3,000 are with civilians.
However, a study by gunpolicy.org, a Sydney-based organization, places the number at 400,000. A section of MPs on the committee view this as a measure to curb increasing gun violence in the country.
Budget committee chairperson Amos Lugoloobi (Ntenjeru North) agreed that with the rising violent crimes committed in the country, it is prudent that government formulates measures to reduce the number of arms among private individuals.
Lugoloobi, however, warned government to draw a balance in implementing the regulations, noting that the same insecurity has forced civilians to also purchase guns to protect themselves.
"There seems to be a lot of abuse by the people owning these firearms; so, they are making it more costly for someone to possess this gadget," he told The Observer. "It also raises some security issues; so, people need the firearms to protect them. But criminals have taken advantage of this too; so, they need to strike a balance."
Colonel Felix Kulayigye (Army MP) says the tax increment is spot-on, given that firearms are a privilege of individuals who are able to afford and pay a progressive tax.
"The revenue collected should enhance policing and community security," Kulayigye said.
Debate on the number of firearms in private arms was reignited in March by the gruesome assassination of Assistant Inspector of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his driver and bodyguard, in Kulambiro, a city suburb.
Kaweesi's murder followed other recent shootings of UPDF major, Muhammad Kiggundu, state prosecutor Joan Kagezi and nearly a dozen Muslim sheikhs. However, Simon Mulongo, a peace and security expert, argues that the increase in the license fees for importation of firearms will only enhance revenue, but not resolve the recent security lapses.
Mulongo told The Observer that government must institutionalise the law on small arms and light weapons, in order to curb gun violence.
"The majority of gun-related incidents have been conducted using illegal guns," he said. "Even those who use illegal arms can afford to pay the Shs 5 million being proposed. Let us institutionalize the law on small arms and light weapons."
ADDITIONAL TAX MEASURES
Other tax measures proposed for the 2017/2018 financial year include increase in excise duty on soft-cap cigarettes from Shs 45,000 to Shs 55,000, from which Shs 3 billion in revenue will be raised.
Also, royalty rates for limestone, chalk and gypsum have been reduced from Shs 10,000 to Shs 5,000 per tonne, from which government will lose Shs 2.5 billion.
As part of efforts to support the Buy Uganda, Build Uganda policy, government has removed excise duty on locally manufactured furniture from local materials, which will set back government revenue by Shs 390 million. Value Added Tax on imported wheat grain has also been reinstated to promote local wheat growing in Uganda.
Government has also slapped exemptions on solar batteries and lanterns; tourist arrangement services, access to tourist sites, tour guide and gaming drive services, irrigation equipment and animal feeds.