The biggest story in Uganda right now is at once a terrifying demonstration of self-serving politics and also a striking display of solidarity by the people in support of fair and just taxation.
An insertion to a new bill by parliament members would, if passed, exempt MPs from paying taxes on their allowances. It’s estimated that Ugandans would lose more than Shs41.58 billion in additional revenue every year, which is around US$12.5 billion. That’s billions that could be spent on public services like education - a crucial element in the fight against poverty and inequality - as well as healthcare, public safety, and a range of other services that can be taken for granted. The same tax regime imposes taxation on the salaries and benefits of all other public servants and low income earners.
It’s a shocking proposal that is hard to accept any sensible justification for. While it points to a worrying trend of political representation neglecting the interests of the people, the people are making their voices heard. On 20th April, we launched a 5 million citizens’ campaign with other CSOs to petition the President to reject the new insertion.
The campaign has registered overwhelming support from our fellow citizens in a short space of time. Harriet Gimbo, our Program Director said in a press statement:
We have mobilized citizens to append their signatures to this petition and in a period of one week, 2,821,909 citizens have signed the petition. These are Ugandans from 88 districts.
That number continues to grow, as more and more add their names to the petition. That petition will be forwarded to the President to show that he has the support of the people to make the right decision and reject these amendments.
#Taxmps the Ugandans have spoken with 3.8milion signatures. Delivery is at 4pm at the primeministers office— ActionAid Uganda (@actionaiduganda) May 6, 2016
The signature collection drive has been met with enthusiasm in all parts of the country. Parliament therefore needs to refrain from decisions that are going to frustrate Uganda’s economy. We are losing billions of shillings in tax exemptions - this trend must stop now.
After this week’s press conference on next steps for the 5 million signature campaign, CSO leaders took to the streets and swept the road in a symbolic demand for the cleaning of the taxation system to remove all forms of unfairness. The campaign has been joined by the clergy with Bishops condemning the acts of the legislators. It is our intention that we are not constrained by the action or not of the president on the legislation itself but continue to use this milestones and emerging people power to challenge other forms of injustice our country faces.
For years ActionAid has been campaigning for better taxation systems; challenging the practices of tax havens, tax holidays for multinational corporations and other legal loopholes exploited by those with an imbalance of power. Signatories of this petition are not only joining our national campaign but joining a global movement calling for the cleaning up of the taxation systems that the people and the entire world economy rely upon.
Update: The campaign has been a success! The bill has been rejected, in a huge victory for people power:
#Taxmps president museven listens to the 4.2 Ugandans...sends bill back to parliament. Great success— ActionAid Uganda (@actionaiduganda) May 10, 2016