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Why everyone at URA is rich

URA Towers in Nakawa

URA Towers in Nakawa

There is that dramatic story about how the wealth of former Uganda Revenue Authority commissioner, Dickson Kateshumbwa shocked Yoweri Museveni when he learned of it.

“How could he have all this money?” Museveni is reported to have acted surprised after reading a 20-page dossier on the commissioner — and others in the commission. He then fired Commissioner General Doris Akol and forced Kateshumbwa and others to resign.

Mr Kateshumbwa, who is now a member of parliament for Sheema Municipality, unceremoniously resigned in 2020 (or forced to resign, according to Museveni himself ) after 14 years with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA). The allegation is that this commissioner earned about Shs 400 million a week.

During the 2021 election, it is alleged that Kateshumbwa spent over a billion shillings that even villagers, The Independent reported, nicknamed him “Mr Moneybags.”

His campaign manager, Stephen Katwiromunda told journalists, “In a place like Sheema, you can’t win an election if you do not have a billion shillings.”

Yes, just after 14 years as a public servant, this man could spend a billion on elections. Kateshumbwa’s resignation followed the sacking of then URA commissioner Doris Akol, which came on allegations of immense corruption. Museveni would say two months later that he had “cleared the corrupt crowd at URA.”

Recall that following her sacking, Akol told journalists that most of the graft in this tax collection body, he had only inherited from Allen Kagina (often praised as a top-tier public servant). Anyways, Akol nowadays works for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). What should we say?

Kateshumbwa had worked in customs, tax investigations, and domestic taxes. Like all tax-related departments, these are some really juicy positions for plum kickbacks as many, many people would rather not pay any taxes to Museveni’s government. Because the government also simply steals this money.

If there is anything to learn from the corruption of the super big shots at URA, it is that everyone at this authority is corrupt. Yes, all are rich. African tradition has never been wrong: the fish starts to rot from the head (whichever head you want to look at). Yes, the Igbo were right when they said, when mother bird is eating, the young ones watch its mouth.

As big shots focus on big businesses, the small ones focus on small businesses. And while we hold individuals personally responsible, we need to also notice that taxes in our country are designed to attract corruption.

CRIPPLING TAXES

Our tax policies and tax regimes — often designed by the IMF and World Bank — are the most crippling across the world. Can you imagine our government even levies taxes on loans for startups!

Before one sees any profits, they start paying taxes. Consider that these taxes aren’t there in Europe, and European manufacturing/ production is extremely subsidized and protected from foreign competition. The IMF forces these colonial enclaves to tax natives so bad to make sure production fails and there is plenty of space for their own foreign businesses to thrive.

Consider, for example, it is possible to import a fully-formed hand hoe (tax free – agricultural equipment) but cannot import the different parts of the same equipment and assemble it in Uganda. Because the different parts are not seen as agricultural equipment — and is thus taxed.

It then follows that a foreigner can profitably sell agricultural equipment in Uganda — because they pay no tax — but a local manufacturer of agricultural equipment is simply kicked out of the market because they cannot compete.

There are many, many IMF-sponsored pro-foreign manufacturing taxes in Uganda. (There are many such taxes in the Kenya Finance Bill 2024, which was protested, and eventually dropped. Thus, the Kenyans focus on the IMF as their enemy, thanks to wonderful public commentary in Nairobi).

BRIBERY OF SURVIVAL

The point I am making is this: because of these many stupid taxes, whose stupidity, ironically, is known to both the URA tax collectors and their victims the taxpayers, both parties have entered a relationship to avoid paying these taxes. Normally, tax collectors sound like this to their taxpayers: “I understand this tax is bad, it is stupid, it will kill your business. But if you can personally give me half the legal fee or something agreeable to both of us, I can look the other way.”

Most businesspersons are forced to agree to such an offer because should the taxman follow the law to the end, you are out of business. Because the tax was designed to kick you out of business. This explains why at any one level, being employed with URA is a gateway to immense wealth – in a short period.

This is the culture at all border control points from the airport, land and water entry-points. If you are connected enough — and dealing in fairly big shipment — your dealings are with the biggest shots in the building. The likes of Kateshumbwa. Then all your goods enter without inspection, but then ensure to send a plump cut to the big man or woman.

There is plenty of folklore about police officers whose jurisdiction touches Lake Victoria especially docks where boats and ships with merchandise from Kenya and Tanzania arrive. These posts are as sensitive and lucrative to both police and revenue collection officers.

I tell these stories as part of the campaign to identify, name and shame thieves in the different units of government. But also, to spell out a larger argument.

The devil is in the details, the structure as well. The stories are not different in Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), National Medical Stores (UNMS) or the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC). And many other authorities.

yusufkajura@gmail.com

The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University

Comments

+2 #1 Akot 2024-07-03 13:12
The reason Rwandese Museveni fought to own Uganda is to own it's riches!

Ugandans MUST stop blaming one another while the entire population live in misery in the Pearl of Africa!

Ugandans, there is no more time to wast, just;

*NO to the tribalistic system & UNITY are all you need, to block & show Rwandese Museveni way out!

Is Museveni not yet rich enough & you just let him continue ensuring, protecting him with fake elections & the divisive tribalistic system he so so cleaverly put in place?

Why are tribal leaders still in posts bought off with tax money?
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-3 #2 Joseph 2024-07-03 18:59
While his article has a good degree of truth, the headline is misleading and alarmist. It is important to know that not every staff in URA is working in the so-called lucrative areas.

It would be very informative to delve into the details of the URA staff you accuse corrupt, it's unfair and unjust to bundle all staff.

You have no idea, that even innocent hard-working staff have been dragged into this. I condemn corruption, however we should be able to identify, isolate and punish individuals.
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-1 #3 Marc Mae 2024-07-05 17:51
I would at least say 85 per cent because I have had a chance of meeting some very honest and kind ones who helped and are still helping me whenever I have a problem
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+3 #4 Lysol 2024-07-06 00:31
The tax collectors since the Biblical times were hated as the most corrupt sinners of society, which collected taxes for the foreign ruler of the Roman empire from the Jews. Luke 18:9-14, The Parable of the Pharisee.

The foreigner, Museveni is just doing the same thing, which the Romans did to the Jews, by overtaxing poor Ugandans in order to sustain his grip on power.
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0 #5 Lakwena 2024-07-10 09:28
In other words, corruption vi-a-vis tax evasion started with Madam Allen Kagina.

Hereinafter, from URA to UNRA how much richer is Allen Kagina and Co.? This is because just like for the Ministry of Defense, only God and the Devil know what goes on in UNRA, whose annual budget is incremental and how much, is funneled out through inflated procurement process?
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0 #6 nwm 2024-07-11 09:27
@Lakwena, tax evasion has always existed since time immemorial not only in Uganda but world all over.

Even Allen Kagina found it there, she only improved better collection strategies and moved on, then Akol also did her part and moved to IMF, now it is another..it is improving and getting better.

We just have to be robust qnd united to press for responsibility and accountability as one people wtout political differences bse it affects all of us as a nation.

See what a united Kenyan,none violent demonstration did to the new tax syatem. We can copy a leaf from that, Ghandi in India used the same strategy to get lndia Indep from the colonia British
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