The whole notion of ‘tax-payer’ is completely out of place in Uganda


The whole notion of ‘tax-payer’ is completely out of place in Uganda.The population of Uganda has no solid stake in the management of public affairs because it lives outside that domain: 85% peasants, dying at 45 years of age, living in a non-monetary sector, in the rural countryside, untaxable because they do not produce any surplus to be taxed, about 50% of them are illiterate, 50.2% 15 years and below, wearing nappies, the highest in the world….that is not the kind of population that takes its government to task. Never!

As you know Ugandans have no fiscal contract with their politicians. If you do not pay the piper, you cannot call the tune.If you look at the 1,000 top tax payers in Uganda, you will find that the top two, MTN and Shell BP pay 12% of all the taxes. The top 10 pay 28% of all the taxes. And those top 10 are petrol vendors (Caltex, Total, Shell), mobile phone vendors, soft drinks and beer makers (Century bottling, Uganda breweries, Nile breweres), cigarette makers (BAT)…all foreign. No real production, no indigenous stake holder on how public affairs/finance should be managed. The other day graduated tax was scrapped…So?

The ‘donors’ contribute up to 53% of all recurrent expenditures. Th so called tax payer is in Brussels and Paris, London and Stockholm, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. More than 80% of the population live outside the monetary sector…peasants. So, which tax payer? To whom, then, are your politicians accountable?

That is why I always wonder what we mean on this forum (and indeed in Uganda) when we keep talking of the lack of democracy, accountability etc. In a country where there is no fiscal contract between the political class and the population as we have in Uganda, there can never be a social contract. Democracy, accountability, ‘good governance’: all that is rubbish. The content of democracy is a fiscal contract.

We need to come to grips with the real content of democracy. Very clearly, in Uganda, there is no foundation or basis for democracy….a cabinet of 500 is feasible.

Unless the country is radically shaken up, to transform the socioeconomic basis in the direction of making the political class dependent on the majority of the population, for get about democracy, keep mum about the ‘tax payer’.

That aid is unearned income and you know what unearned income does. If government was depending on mony deducted from 20 million Ugandas wage earners, it wold think twice before squandering it. It would be someone’s sweat and they would demand for accountability. But who in Uganda identifies with ‘donor’ aid as his money? If we do not come to grips with the relationship between paying tax and governmental accountability, then we shall keep fooling ourselves for ever with democracy for ever.

That is why I always insist that we need to proletarianise the population-urgently-create wage earners, get rid of the passive peasant class. A population that is largely wage-earners or proletariat is a population that you do not foll around with. The impunity of our political class now is a logical consequence of the fact that the country is largely peasant. That is why some of them are interested in preserving that passive class that will vote for them just because of a piece of soap. A wage labourer will tell you not to insult him by bribing him with money he contributed as PAYE or income tax.
What tax do the peasants pay?

We know that Uganda was broke right from the cradle: independence was on 9 oct 1962, 24 hours later, on 10 oct 1962 there was no money to finance the return of the colonial administrators to London. The first structural adjustment facility was arranged there and then (what ever structures there were to adjust on day one). If AM Obote had asked for grants to finance his ‘public spending’ (whatever that means) instead of expropriating foreign multinationals, he would probably have lived longer and may be succumbed to internal contradictions.


L/Cpl (rtd) Otto Patrick

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