November 20th 2016 like-minded Ugandan CSO's held a press conference at the SEATINI offices, asking the Ugandan president to stand his ground and keep insisting that members of parliament (MP's) should pay taxes over their allowances. How can you justify a country's elected officials exempting themselves from paying taxes, especially in a country that already has so much trouble balancing the government budget?
Following a petition started by Francis Byamugisha, who questioned the rationale of MP's not paying tax, the commercial court ordered Ugandan MP's to pay taxes over their allowances dating back to 2004 in February 2015. The MP's immediate appeal to this decision is yet to be heard and the Income Tax (amendments) Bill they passed last year to officially exempt themselves wasn't approved by the president, who instead sent it back to the speaker of parliament.
According to Mr Julius Mukunda, the coordinator of Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), taxation is the price citizens pay for service delivery and development. The tax exemption the MP's are proposing would be detrimental to the national budget, which raises 68 percent of its resources from domestic taxes.
“All citizens including medical workers, teachers and private citizens pay taxes on their allowances including lunch allowances for medical workers and sitting allowances for district councillors,” he said.
With the current size of parliament, the country would stand to lose nearly Shs50 billion (US$12 million) a year, which could be used for education or health care. But besides these direct losses of revenue, there would also be indirect losses. Because if an MP doesn't feel the need to pay income tax, then why should an ordinary citizen?
The President agrees with this, and refused to approve their tax bill last year, stating that they have no moral right to exempt any of their emoluments from taxes and that by doing so they would be "sending a dangerous message" to the rest of the country.
Recently the legislators unanimously passed this bill again though, arguing that they are already paying hefty taxes on their salaries. So now it is up to the President once again. Let's hope he hasn't forgotten the five million signatures he got from concerned citizens just this last spring.