OPINION: Uganda, a Predatory State

By Onesmus Ahabwe.

At the Launch of the exorbitantly expensive Kampala-Entebbe express highway, the fountain of honour remarked in Luganda that; ­­­­­­­”olaba mwamanyinyiira ebyobweleere, naye eno yakusasulila” loosely translated…you know you got used to free things but to use this one [road] you will have to pay a fee.

This express highway is a PPP project where by the government got a loan of US$350 million from the Chinese Exim Bank, used a Chinese company “China Communication Construction Company” to construct it and for the money to paid back, the operator…yet to be announced by UNRA will be collecting usage fees at tolls along the new road, which is already in operation.

This gives the populace an impression that the previous infrastructure projects have been gifts, or acts of kindness from the government of Uganda to the hard working, resilient, and warm people of Uganda.

By nature of state formation, a state [read ruling government] has the monopoly of use of coercion to make decisions that ideally are supposed to benefit the whole occupants within its borders.

One tool of this is through taxation, which is aimed at providing public goods…read roads, schools, hospitals, security, defense foreign relations et cetera.

This brings us to the title of this seemingly incoherent verbatim…a predatory state.

When a ruling administration deliberately shifts from using its monopoly of coercive force to make beneficial policies for the larger population, and to plan for the future of a country to making decisions to win elections, stay in power, feed loyalists, fund supplementary budgets for special meals, pay 200 presidential advisors, ‎426 MPs, 112 RDCs and their deputies, uncoordinated and duplicated state institutions, countless adhoc commitees that undermine existing state institutions at the expense of the tax payer…those are the tentacles of a predatory state.

In a worst scenario we have examples such as the former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha who used his time in power to loot as much as he could. Part of the USD 5 billion loot is still being transferred back to Nigerian state coffers.

When addressing security concerns, the same fountain of honour used a term “kawunkuumi” however, in relation to a predatory state, the corresponding parasite would be omushundo…or leeches which suck as much as they can from a living body with not regard to the well-being of the host organism

I would like to expound a bit more about the ideal use of taxation in modern economics…Basic fiscal policy objectives are creating a balanced and healthy economic growth while offsetting economic contractions.

Now, what do you call an administration that progressively increases taxes on domestic consumables annually even during a period where the economy is going through an economic downturn?

Another tool that the government can use to increase people’s purchasing power which in turn drives the economy, is through government expenditure. This includes large infrastructure projects, payment of suppliers of goods to government, salaries and social security arrears. But this too is unbecoming because of the unfortunate lack of capacity of Ugandan owned firms to execute large scale infrastructure projects coupled with deliberate arm twisting by the funding countries to force GOU to use companies from those countries.

Then comes the frustrating delay to clear local suppliers to government. This leaves the economy liquidity strapped, and then you impose new taxes on social media and an increase in excise duty?? Is there any regard for the living organism?? (read Ugandan)

Now, I for one would not mind paying tax as long I am comfortable that the state is doing enough to improve health, public education, security and defence, plus a favourable and beneficial relationship with our neighbours.

But in a situation where it is clearly evident that the administration is failing to provide the same public goods that it takes pride in, why on earth are they now taking more of my money, what is the justification for increased taxation?

A predatory administration feels that positive policies after promoting economic growth, there is always a redistribution of political power from the ones in control to new hands, which as we all know is not what our fountain of honour is interested in. I hope for goodness’s mercy that I am wrong.