Chapter 9, Article 152(1) of the Constitution, gives Parliament the authority to establish Acts on taxation. And imposing taxes is one of the key functions of government in order to raise revenue to serve its citizens better.
It is also useful for every law-abiding citizen to obey his or her tax obligations whether in form of income tax, VAT, withholding tax, PAYE, NSSF, Local Service Tax or the new social media tax and any other levies required of them.
This is important because the government intends to raise more than Shs16 trillion in domestic taxes for its ambitious Shs32 trillion Budget for the 2018/19 financial year.
Over the years, Uganda has scored impressively in tax collection. A case in point is a November 21, 2017 report by the World Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which indicated that the country ranked 84th globally in remitting taxes. The report placed Uganda behind Rwanda (ranked 31).
Kenya was ranked 92, Tanzania 164, Burundi 138 and South Sudan 168.
However, much as the books look colourful elsewhere, the situation on the ground is gloomy, as citizens look for any window available to dodge paying taxes either because they have been beaten from all angles by obnoxious tax regimes or the system is unfair.
Many powerful and rich people in Uganda use their connections to dodge taxes or get tax waivers for either importation of goods or doing business in the country. In effect, this narrows the tax base as Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) goes after those with less connections and often negligible incomes.
Of course, the bad apples are abounding. For instance, URA in May, named about 150 tax defaulters and opened criminal investigations against them for alleged tax fraud, which had reportedly cost the tax body Shs200 billion.
Many citizens have no problem paying tax. However, a good tax system should meet five basic conditions, which are fairness, adequacy, simplicity, transparency, and administrative ease. And even when they are forced, Ugandans do pay the taxes through the nose. But it disgusts if the money is squandered in political malfeasance and unjustified donations and “handshakes”.
If the government must tax everything it thinks of, then it is just good manners that the money is put to good use. Citizens must be accorded good healthcare systems, good roads, quality education, competitive salaries and security, among others.
The uproar on social media at the weekend over taxes to access the Over The Top services was, therefore, not a protest against paying taxes, but a protest against unfair taxation, which so often ends up in wastage and poor sensitisation on the mode of payment. Scratch my back and I will scratch yours.