If the headlines were anything to give, one would assume that Uganda’s taxes go to waste. A sample poll conducted on Twitter indicates that 58% of the 144 respondents think that their taxes don’t work. Often, what makes the news is the fact that taxes are being wasted on lavish “cow semen”, overpriced goods and services. The concern; when services are provided, they are not up-to-standard.
That is if they are done at all.
Only 14% say their taxes work.
From stalled projects to striking doctors, questions are raised on what actually the tax money does. In the current financial year, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) is expected to collect Shs15trillion. The argument by URA is that their responsibility is to collect the money and transfer to the spending pool of money, the Consolidated Fund. In order to show Ugandans that the taxes actually do work. URA a few months ago hosted an exhibition where several government entities showcased what the taxpayer’s money was up-to. This was part of the drive to showcase that taxes were indeed working.
From powering the energy sector to building roads and paying civil servants, these are the things that taxes will be doing. However, it is the bad things that often that dominate the headlines. For good reasons. If the government is overpaying for road construction projects, or even buildings or even semen to fertilize cows or even giving counterfeit seeds to farmers, quickly finding the cash for our MPs to consult on the urgent matter of age limit, yet thousands can’t access basic services, then the headlines will always appear.
“Building Uganda Together” – That is URA’s tagline.
But not when people see the massive investment in teargas yet police officers get paid peanuts and live in squalid conditions.
There are the good things. The magnificent renovations to some of the hospitals, the regular payment of civil servants, the peace and security enjoyed, the newly paved roads – though lacking in terms of standards and the proposed plans for several projects. All good. The taxpayer will say “these are the things you are meant to do with our money.”
So the question is, do your taxes really work?
From the Poll conducted on Twitter, there was another option: the taxes could do better. And that answer was the second most popular after “No” response. The 28% think that the government can do better when it comes to spending the tax funds. Obviously, if taxes didn’t work, we would nothing. The country would have a complete breakdown of social services. Right now, we have near breakdown.
Near breakdown can be fixed. This is only by spending the tax money efficiently to deliver better services. Cut the wastage. Plug the loopholes and get to work. Some will say, this is misplaced idealism but then who would not want a better country. Uganda is entering a phase of massive debt accumulation as plans to construct the Standard Gauge Railway, Oil Refinery, part of the oil pipeline financing and the Kampala – Jinja Expressway. For these projects to deliver the value, execution must be efficient and considering that it’s the taxes that pay the interest and principal on the loans, then the current mode of operation has to improve significantly.
If only we got to work.