Calling for Taxation on MPs' Allowance

By Joseph Olwenyi

During the month of April 2016, civil society organisations under the umbrella of the Tax Justice Alliance Uganda staged a campaign against a move by Members of Parliament to exempt themselves from paying tax on their allowances and emoluments. This was after a ruling by the court in a case which had earlier been presented by a concerned citizen, Francis Byamugisha who thought it was wrong for MPs not to pay taxes on their emoluments. He also noted that the MPs had not been paying these taxes since 2004. If the court ruling had been put to action, MPs would have had to pay taxes which had accumulated since 2004. However, Members of Parliament weren’t in agreement with this. Being the legislating body in the country, they quickly passed an amendment within the Income Tax Amendment Bill, 2016. This arose the attention of civil society in Uganda.

As a means of reversing the actions of Members of Parliament, a campaign was launched by civil society organisations including CSBAG, SEATINI, NGO –FORUM, CEWIT, Uganda Debt Network urging the President of Uganda not to assent to the bill which was exempting them from paying income tax on their emoluments. A national stakeholders’ dialogue on amending the income tax Act was organised by CSOs on 20th April 2016 at Africana Hotel. The campaign was launched on the social media with a hash tag #TaxMPs. During the event, a petition was launched to collect 5 million signatures which would then be submitted to the President of Uganda. Signatures were collected were collected from the Citizens of Uganda. The citizens’ petition of 4.2 million signatures against MPs tax exemption ploy was handed to the Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda by the Executive Members of Civil Society at the Office of the Prime Minister on Friday, 6th May 2016. As a result, on 10th May 2016, the president returned the Income Tax Bill to parliament. Although the president is quoted to have supported the decision to tax MPs, he later retracted his position. The issue to tax MPs is currently in the courts of law.

A series of media engagements including press conferences, radio and TV interviews were held during which members of the Tax Justice Alliance decried the action by Members of Parliament to exempt themselves from the tax.

A few months after the national budget had been passed, it was noticed that the government had remained silent about the income tax amendment bill 2016. In order to prompt a response from the president, a press conference was held on 14th December. This was followed by a series of activities including press conferences, radio and TV interviews at a national, regional and local level. Peaceful citizen marches across the different regions in the country. The press conferences were held with traders associations, District NGOs within the country.

Unfortunately on 19th December 2016 the president accented to the income tax amendment bill 2016, in which Members of parliament were exempted to pay taxes on their emoluments.

Despite the ultimate result, the campaign increased fiscal awareness, built local champions and empowered women groups and citizens who raised voices and demanded for fair taxation.