By Henry Mutebe
Dear Andrew Mwenda,
I have been reading your post that caused a brouhaha online. As always, anyone reading your ingeniously staked pile of statistics may mistake your canopy of lies for a roof of the house of truth. It takes an ardent and open eye to forage through the mountain of statistics you usually arm your write ups with, in order to decode the lies that; ever present, veil the arcade of lies you sell to your unsuspecting followers.
Andrew, you are deluded to think anyone who raises up to give their opinion that goes against a government position is anti-government, anti-tax and or ignorant. Far from it, we are pro-government, but perhaps I should add, pro-good government. Most Ugandans who speak out their pains, do so because they want things to be better and they love this country better. Like you love your country and government, we all do, perhaps in different ways.
While you look at our government developing pimples and you use rhetorical make up to cover the pimples and call it ‘beautiful’, we also love this government but care enough to say, this is a pimple and not a dimple. We care enough and shall; at the risk of being labelled ignorant and or anti-government, always tell our leaders the truth whenever things go wrong and seek for a dialogue on issues we think government can do better.
Being pro-government doesn’t necessarily mean spinning. Our government has over 400,000 civil servants. We cannot say we hate our government when its staffed with our brothers and sisters. However, we are honest enough to tell our brothers and sisters that your mouth is smelling, go and brush. You on the other hand, simply just keep saying (literally) that bad breath is a sign that one had dinner.
Unlike you who, believes in the chaos theory of conflict resolution, because being a journalist, a death is just a figure to report or name to sell in your news, we who do care about what happens to our country, shall never tire in speaking up and asking government to improve in areas we feel can hurt society.
Let’s examine the merits of the arguments in your last Facebook post. I will be very generous in my consideration and respect for your views, but will also keep my arguments within the courtyard of honesty.
First you argue that citizens are demanding services yet they don’t pay taxes. Now, Andrew, in my view, being stupid is not a crime, but to spread it, I dare say, should be morally and intellectually criminal. Who in this country does not pay a tax? Who are you fooling? Who does not know that every time one buys something from a shop, they indirectly pay a tax to government?
It is good (for me), but tragically sad (for you), that you use Norway as an example to demonstrate how Ugandans have what in your view, are wild expectations. I lived in that country and have a good appreciation of what goes on there.
You may want to learn that the governments in those countries (cited) have an irreducible minimum package of services they offer their people which makes them happy, and I should emphasise, eager to pay taxes. They can see what their taxes are doing, without the need of a spin doctor (who is also a cost to the state).
You shrewdly just point to these countries but do not walk down the complete mile of your argument to explain what those governments do differently to make their people love to pay their taxes. Why are Ugandans enraged about paying these taxes?
To make matters worse, you front the old argument that it’s the rich paying taxes. Oh Please! Do the rich print this money on their own and pay government or they make it from the poor? Where does the money of the rich come from? The so called rich also get their money from the poor.
Between Sudhir and an ordinary citizen, who needs the Police more? Who has much to lose? Who should pay more? Of course we all know and appreciate that taxes are what Government uses to pay for the services but to simply argue that the rich are paying more is to, in my view, construct a house of lies that will soon collapse under the undeniable weight of the truth.
The rich pay more because in reality, they get more from the poor. They don’t print their own money. So ultimately, this money is still paid by the poor, through the hands of the rich.
The fact that they finally pass on some of this money, collected from the poor, doesn’t necessarily make them the ones who are paying as you naively argue. The question then becomes; why don’t people want to pay taxes? But let’s even assume that it’s true that the rich(you and others), are the ones who are paying more, which country in the world doesn’t have this trajectory? Since you love statistics, let’s go square.
In 2016, more than four in ten Americans (44.3% to be exact), did not pay income tax. 44.3% of American’s population means more than 76 million Americans, like the Ugandans you describe and brutally detest, did not pay their taxes! See?
Okay. Let’s consider the United Kingdom. In the same year (2016), 43.8% of the Britons did not pay income tax. Andrew, I am talking about the United Kingdom. So…if the United Kingdom, that for over 300 years scavenged the world, and vacuumed their resources, developed and matured but still has 43.3% of its population not paying income tax because they consider their incomes minimal to call for a levy, how do you expect Uganda; a baby, in development terms, to have dreamy figures?
To argue that ‘only about 760,000 people are registered for personal income tax called Pay As You Earn (PAYE)’ is a punch below the belt. You also argue that only 24,600 out of the 236,000 individuals with businesses, are paying taxes and that ‘a miniscule 4,150 pay 80% of it.’ Why didn’t you also show us the figures of how much the rich pay in the developed countries to which you want us to aspire to be?
The argument that the few are paying bypasses the hard reality of income inequality that is evolving into a cancerous state in this country.
In 2012 the world Bank gini index rated us at 42.4% in inequality levels. This means that the level of inequality is too high. The Norway you cite is the third most equal country in the world in terms of income (pa World Bank 2016) after Ukraine and Slovenia.
The success of your lies, I have come to discover, rests in your genius in perfectly and thoroughly discussing; but half, of your truths. To achieve the 40% tax to GDP ratio/level requires acceleration of economic equality. If some people have more and extremely much while others continue to sink in poverty means that you will continue to have the rich pay more and shoulder the burden.
Even in the UK, in 2016 the top 1% paid about 27% of all the taxes. The US case is not different. The reason is that there is generally more income distribution and some form of equality than we have in our country.
In an article you wrote in 2015, you cited World Bank as having reported that Uganda loses about 500 billion in corruption every year. In the same year, you argued that corruption is good and helps to promote efficiency. Bundling some arguments to achieve your lies, which I challenged, you argued that corruption is good.
Today, in your article, you again contradict yourself and argue that the tax is good because it will make people wake up and demand for accountability. Which accountability are you talking about?
In 2015 when we wrote against corruption, you stood up for it and defended corruption, shamelessly sanitizing it. On the one hand you support corruption but again write that this tax will wake up people to start demanding for accountability.
On Tuesday, your friend Tamale Mirundi smartly used a simple example to illustrate the state of Uganda. He said, as a school (citizens of Uganda), we are fetching water (paying our taxes), but the tank (treasury) is leaking. How do you expect people to be motivated to pay taxes when what they put is what moves out?
In my understanding, He used the word leaking to mean that many resources often find their way out of the public purse in dubious, uncultured, illegitimate and corrupt ways. That lost water (money lost in endless corruption scandals), does not motivate Ugandans to love to pay more taxes.
The corruption index 2016 ranked us (Uganda) 151 out of 176 countries in the world. This means Uganda is believed to be the 25th most corrupt country in the world, only beaten by Somalia, South Sudan and a few others.
In 2016, the very members of parliament who want us ordinary folks to cough out more money in taxes exempted themselves from paying taxes on their allowances. By just passing that law, the revenue body is estimated to have lost over 40 billion that could have been chopped off their allowances like other employees.
Just recently, government paid out over 9 billion to MPs of the 9th parliament in tax refunds. The MPs want ordinary people to pay but they feel they are too special to pay these taxes. If MPs do not experience what ordinary folks go through to make ends meet, how will they legislate when their experiences are different from ours? How do they understand our problems?
How does a person whose fuel is paid for, medical expenses catered for and a fat salary guaranteed whether they come to work once in a month or not…whether they sleep and say nothing..How do does this elevation make MPs understand what it feels like not be an MP? You don’t have the answers to these questions and I know that you are not responsible for the decisions MPs make but I want you to discard the idea that the people don’t want to pay taxes. How should people pay taxes when those who are planning for them don’t want to pay?
Consider the wastage of government resources. Makerere University for example, has about 3000-4000 government students at any given time. For the last couple of years, due to the small allocations government gives the university, students on government sponsorship are allocated about 5000shs per day for their meals. It has been like this for years.
Due to this issue, students keep striking almost every semester over poor meals. To defuse these strikes, the government spends millions of shillings to contain the strikes. The University loses property during the strikes, people lose business and a lot of time is wasted when some of the issues causing these strikes could cost us less than we spend on containing them.
But I may be duleded…may be it is business for people to have this kind of chaos! Imagine, if government had prioritized and raised this money by 5000shs only to make it 10,000shs, it would cost it just 20 million per semester or 40 million every year. The government spends more money on containing strikes in Makerere than the money it would use to improve student welfare.
Government beat up MP Nambooze, Hon.Zaake and others. On two MPs (Xaake and Nambooze) alone, the tax payers had to cough over 300 million just to get medication for them out of the country. Again, Hon. Nambooze is mistreated, she has today been flown for further treatment. We are going to cough more money. So you basically have tax payers’ money being deliberately put to waste because of the actions of some officers of government who should be paying from their pockets for their illegal actions.
I am saying all this because it bothers me that you want to blame the ordinary people for the mistakes of government. You also argued that 75% of imports are not taxed. You said many businesses are not paying taxes. Who are you telling? Who should tax those businesses? Should ordinary people set up roadblocks and start levying tax on behalf of URA? The excuses you give are completely baseless. Whose role is it to collect taxes?
How about the many so called investors who are given obscene tax breaks and holidays?
You give a foreigner 10 years of tax free business but when your own Wavamuno, a man who has contributed for years to a country’s development, falls in debt or fails to pay a tax, the government doesn’t want to know! Investors come and open businesses here, they make profits although they hide the facts. Once the time is over, they close and either come back as new investors (to be given new tax breaks) or simply pack and leave. Why don’t you also talk about these folks since you are the wisest journalist? Oh please! Save us this bunch of lies.
In Kenya, you have the finance Minister Dr. Henry Rotitch, a Harvard graduate. In Rwanda, you have a PhD economist from Warsaw school of Economics as Minister. Ethiopia, same story, Dr. Abraham- PhD economist as minister of Finance, then you come to Uganda, we have Anite in the ministry of Finance! Mwenda, understand the roots of a problem. Don’t go for the leaves.
I have paid my OTT, but even then, I care enough to tell government that is not right and they can find other ways to increase revenue without hurting ordinary folks. We are not fools to consume your bunch lies. To get the billions government is looking for through the 1% levy on mobile money and 200 shs social media tax, you dont need to squeeze ordinary people. Just cut corruption by 1% and you will have the billions you are searching for through these taxes.