Uganda: When We Eat, We Grow, Says Minister

A senior Cabinet minister has defended the proposed tax on NSSF benefits, saying "when we eat, we grow".

In the latest tax proposal, the government is looking at a TTE and EET tax regime on workers savings, the minister said in what was happening in my mind.

Asked what TTE and EET meant, the minister looked disturbed, tried to consult with her aide but getting no immediate rescue, she dialled the nearest 911 on her tongue and bailed herself with, "just read as pronounced".

"Otherwise, when we eat, we grow. When we sleep, we... " she trailed off and reminded this reporter that the interview was off the record. "If you quote me in that rubbish column of yours, the next time we meet, I will be in the company of Gen Gwanga," she warned.

Well, Gwanga is good going up against vehicles. He did in a tractor, deflated a salon car and I hear handled a lorry. But we are not called Empty Tin for nothing (never mind the pun).

Asked to elaborate on "eating and growing" that she had thrown around with relish, the minister rubbed the hem of her skirt, leaving our cameraman bemused.

It was a big sigh when she picked her notebook on the floor and started flipping the pages. She got to the page she was looking for and read from the scripted line.

"Do you know why a hungry baby cries for breast milk?" she asked and rolled her eyes for handclaps. But there was none. We were only four in the room, including her aide and my cameraman. As the applause wasn't coming, she continued: "Because it's starving. Similarly, the baby goes quiet and sleeps once it has been breastfed."

The confidence with which the minister spoke left a bigger impression than her statement. But once in a while sense popped out of her confusion. Like when she explained the need to increase the tax base.

"We should all be proud to pay taxes, but we shouldn't just pay; we should demand accountability for it," the minister said and gulped water.

She revealed that at the recent Cabinet meeting, there was a proposal to tax viral Makerere University freshman Henry Suubi, citing that the fleeting proposal was brought forth by a minister who said the student was getting so much in benefits without giving back anything.

"We considered taxing Suubi but we didn't have enough time to debate this as Cabinet," the minister said.

"I hear even KFC is now giving him free meals, so he will munch chicken thighs alone yet institutions and individuals are also donating. In future, we will find a way to tax such favour and donations."

Back to NSSF benefits tax, don't you think the citizens will protest?

"How? Protests have never shifted the source of River Nile to Nebbi, so why should this worry the government? They can protest, we will stand our ground until they get used to reality. We are not doing it for ourselves but for the good of the nation and to ensure its future."

But they can protest by bringing up another VPN to counter NSSF double taxation, I persisted.

"VPN has failed to stop social media tax. People are paying. Do you want evidence? Go to UCC."

And the double taxation, first as PAYE and then benefits? I added.

"Do you eat once a day? Even if you do, so what? You eat and still must eat again and again to live. The government is doing the same," she said.

The interview ended as soon as Empty Tin stopped daydreaming.

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