Launch of the Fair Tax Monitor in Uganda: Bringing Tax Justice Closer to the Leaders

Millions of Ugandans now know that the tax system in Uganda is not fair. The launch of the Fair Tax Monitor by Oxfam and partner SEATINI at the end of January was on the biggest national private television in Uganda (NTV), the radio and debated in many newspapers. The secret of the success of the launch? They waited, for the right moment.

Joseph Olwenyi, project leader Financing for Development at Oxfam in Uganda, with shining eyes: ‘The report was finalized at the end of the year and the results were very interesting. It shows how big companies get years of tax holidays, while poor people pay the price: 66 percent of Uganda’s revenue is made out of indirect taxes: over food, medicines and all kind of basic services. At the same time public services as education and health are hardly delivered to the people. Investments in those areas decreased in the last 4 years.’

But Oxfam and SEATINI knew that in December many stakeholders wouldn’t be present for a launch: everybody would be thinking of the Christmas holidays. The right moment would be a month later, during the World Economic Forum in Davos and the parallel Global Week of Action in the South. Joseph: ‘Then we would have media attention. During a field visit earlier I got to understand how important it is to show real people’s lives. We wanted to give our message a human face. That’s why we choose a district in the countryside, Soroti, to organize first a march and a debate with the people from there, with whom we were already working for a long time.’

The debate, on Monday the 21st of January, was very good, according to Joseph. There were many statements from the people about poor service delivery: ‘Such as the fact that there are no medicines in the health centers and that women prefer to deliver their babies at home, as there are no facilities in the maternities, in spite of the risks. The interesting thing was that the politicians from the district who were present during the debate, agreed on the difficulties and complained that the local revenues (as money payed for public transport and taxes on waste collection) were taken by the central government and not being returned to the district.’

The whole debate was live on Delta Radio and more radios were there to follow it. Joseph: ‘Many people in Eastern Uganda called the radio to comment that they pay too much tax, being taxed on selling on the market, buying on the market and so on.’

The debate in Soroti was also filmed by the private national television channel, NTV. But not broadcasted, yet. Joseph: ‘We asked them to wait. We still had to launch our Fair tax Monitor officially. That we did this on Wednesday, the 23th of January, in Kampala, together with many guests: people from universities, labour unions, members of parliament, representatives from the Uganda Tax Revenue Authority, etc.’

The report was received by the government, through the economic adviser of the minister of finance. Joseph: ‘They promised to take our suggestions in consideration.’

Ugali stunt

But there were still two surprises left. First: a stunt in the Golf Course Hotel where the launch of the report was happening. Joseph: ‘We thought of a way of bringing the politicians closer to the reality most people live in Uganda: we asked them to choose a meal from the menu, like a nice Italian plate. They were served and when they opened their covered plates they saw beans and ugali, cooked posho (maizemeal). No one would expect to go to a big hotel only to be served with just that with no other options, especially since hotels always have a variety of all food. Posho is the quickest go to food, especially for low income earners compared to other foods within the same price range because its presumed to last longer in the stomach and also gives a lot of energy for people to do their manual work.’

The politicians were quite surprised and refused to eat it. They didn’t expect this at all and we explained them that Ugandans also don’t expect the bad service delivery after paying so much tax… They were relieved that it was just a stunt.’

And then there was a last surprise. NTV still had to broadcast the debate held earlier in Soroti. Joseph: ‘We discussed this a lot. In the end we decided to ask NTV to broadcast it on the day that coincided with the Uganda National Liberation Day, which would have many people watching their television sets. During the week NTV frequently advertised the, showing in seconds some statements from the people of Soroti on tax.’

People's Parliament

On Saturday, while public television was broadcasting the whole day speeches about all the successes of the government of the president, NTV showed the debate in Soroti on television, at 8 PM, prime time. Joseph: ‘It has been seen by millions. So, a great start for our next campaign: fair tax and money for medicines.’