The enthusiasm and zealousness that taxes are collected is not the same with which services are provided. And this is not an exception of only developing countries. Recently, I was travelling on the Tirinyi highway; I was stopped by police officers who later thoroughly searched the car I was in with the hope of finding unreported economic goods. A few meters away was a bus that was undergoing the same experience; a lady was dragged out of the bus to identify the goods that she was carrying in the trunk. It wasn’t clear whether the goods had been cleared at the Busia boarder or not. She was retained. God knows what her fate was in the hands of the officers who appeared ravenous, angry and ready to devour like hungry vultures.
As the commodity prices continue to rocket in the East African region, there is definitely someone behind the curtains who is down on their knees praying that the prices should soar further[i]. The higher the prices, the higher the tax cut off each commodity purchased. In other countries, a minimal price increase on a consumable will send shivers through every spine and of course deliver public outrage. Late 2008, I heard Americans bitterly complaining about the increase in the cost of a double cheese burger. The price had shot up by less than two percent meaning that every Burger loving American was paying an extra indirect tax on each burger they purchased. We have seen all presidential candidates from across the political divide in the U.S front tax cuts as part of their agenda when they achieve power. In most third world countries including Uganda, it is different, the politicians speak about tax cuts on their campaign trail, but once they get into power what do they do? They increase market dues in the name of increasing their taxation base; they pass laws that induce indirect taxes on commodities especially the basic necessities like food stuffs including salt, and sugar; they conspire to raise taxes on the life blood of the economy – fuel. And yet they themselves shop from duty free markets, receive tax rebates and spend from their vote on entertainment for their household.
Once the money is in the money bag, it becomes party time for the taxman; time to shop for fighter jets; time to run a philanthropic political party campaign; and very soon it will be time to have titanic salary increments for a job well done in sucking the tax payer.
One will quickly wonder where the steady position of the tax payer in this whole equation is. As the taxman goes to do his shopping errands, the tax payer is deficiently crying foul over lack of aspirin at his nearby health center, food rationing for his children at the village primary school, poor feeder roads, higher prices for food in the markets, declining fortunes in agriculture and above all grappling with a sense of hopelessness about what next.
Donned in a costume of despair, the tax payer continues to swim in a sea of unemployment, poor salaries, corruption, civil strife, declining incomes and all this spiced up with lack of social protection for the half naked citizen. On the reverse of this very coin, the taxman’s daughters and sons are gratifying themselves by winning the deal to be the faces of the Forbes magazine.
As the taxman treks across his turf, he is decorated with self made accolades of war and terror. He takes his subjects on a flight of fear. He is accompanied with protégés who sing and chant: “the world is not enough!” On that voyage he identifies who sings his tune loudest, and that one earns himself a place to eat the crumbs that fall off the taxman’s golden table. The tax payer has now become a stranger while the taxman is the sung absentee landlord of all times. What side of the divide are you?