Masaka — Timber dealers in Masaka District have rejected the newly introduced environmental taxes on forests and their products.
Recently, Masaka District authorities introduced monthly fees for people dealing in forest products which has since attracted criticism and protests from timber dealers in the district.
The dealers argue that they are already paying huge taxes and introducing new ones would be an added burden.
According to the new tax structures seen by this paper, timber dealers in Masaka will be required to remit Shs225,000 per month, carpenters and poles dealers Shs45, 000 and charcoal traders, Shs 36,000 to the district .
The dealers under their umbrella body, Masaka Timber, Charcoal and Poles Dealers Association, have vowed to evade the newly introduced monthly fees, arguing that they were not consulted before the charges were introduced.
Mr Alex Katashisha, a timber dealer in Masaka Town, said the traders are already paying a lot of taxes that include trading licences, Uganda Revenue Authority fees, transportation, harvesting and extraction licences and ground rent, among other fees.
Mr Katashisha said introducing monthly fees will be double taxation which is against the law.
He asked the district forestry department to suspend the new fees.
"The decision by the district authorities to charge us monthly as if we are paying rental fees is unfair and uncalled for, this may be a calculated move by the district to push us out of the business because no trader can stand this tax burden" he said during a press conference in Masaka Town last Saturday
Mr Fred Ssasira, the chairperson of the association, said many timber dealers are going to be forced to close their businesses if the district insists on enforcing the new charges since majority are still facing challenges in paying the existing taxes.
"It's not that we don't want to pay taxes but they are too high. We request the leaders to listen to our cries and revise the new monthly fees downwards," he said.
According to Ssasira , each lorry loaded with treated fencing posts is currently charged Shs60,000 per trip, which is remitted to the district while a truckload of fire wood is charged Shs45,000 per trip which he says is too high.
However, Mr Willy Bbaale, the district forestry officer, defended the new taxes, saying they were introduced to streamline the operations of dealers in forest products and save forests from being depleted.
He said all the taxes levied on forest products are provided for in the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act, adding that what the district has introduced is a small percentage which should not scare the dealers. He, however, promised to forward the timber dealers' complaints to the district council for review.
Masaka has 34,822 hectares of forest cover, but statistics from the district forestry office indicate that 30 per cent of gazetted forest reserves have been degraded.