The clarion call for the American war of independence was “No representation, no taxation”. That is the very dictum that is being turned on its head in Uganda when populism blinkers the political elite into abolishing poll tax. Paternalistic abolition of tax is an automatic dissolution of civil society. Once a population is lulled into not paying tax, it is automatically unsubscribed from membership to civil society.
Our political elite can now easily proclaim: “No taxation, no representation”. Indeed, this is what we see as an extreme case in countries that are completely devoid of a fiscal contract between the masses and the elite, particularly those that depend on oil for revenue. In Bahrain and Qatar, income tax is 0%, there is Zero parliament. Parliament is the venue for parley. If you do not bankroll me, what parley, or bargain do I have to exercise with you?
That is when even the notion of “accountability” which some people deploy becomes a mere bumper sticker and tedious cliche. Simply a sterile jargon. Accountability is a reciprocal process. It is a two way process. I am accountable to you if you owe me a living. If I depend on aid or oil, I am unlike an elite that depends on excise duties, export duties, import duties, income taxes and all other forms of revenue that create symbiosis between productive populations and the political class.
Institutions per se will not help Uganda. Ugandans must have a stake in their country. How can they become effective stakeholders? You and I argue that through some form of direct taxation. That may not be popular but is the best way.
Today, the very few taxpayers in Uganda are well facilitated. They are actually happy. Those who do not pay direct taxes are also happy so who is going to fight for what us-the elite-treasure.
I am watching the situation in Iran with interest. Things may boil over in that Persian country.
But the folks in the media who are always urging the opposition to unite should re-think their message. Instead they should urge Ugandans to embrace direct taxation if they expect to make progress. From my angle, a country or people who do not pay taxes cannot aspire for great things including democratization, decent health care services, housing, social services, education, and yes accountability, running water, police services etc.
Institutions can only be the icing on the cake. The cake is taxation: the nuts and bolts of democracy.
WBK and Otto