Let’s Talk Tax

There is a thin line (if any) between a political related discussion and that on taxation. It goes without mention that the two have a parasitic relationship, however distant one may choose to look at it. Wherever there is political discussion, you should be surprised if the conversation goes without opinionated facts defensively presented in raised voices wielded in concrete emphatic tones. Faces twitch with bulging eyes as seasonal wrinkles easily fade and rise on a face where they may not be traceable once the conversation is done. One thing though about political discussions is the way in which, often times, the participants are smartly dressed like they won’t be believed were they not to be. Much as the discussion may rage on for hours without end, usually, you have no winner. Everyone wins and everyone loses. As such are discussions related to tax.

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Tax is a burden we must all endure

Tones are leveled, endless gesture expressions of points that are failing to sink in. Endless scribbling down of figures for emphasis and more. With tax related conversation, there is always that one lead discussant whose role is to explain the details, the difficult terms and how they come about. To a lay person, this person’s role is to confuse you till you can understand no more and consequently lose interest in the conversation.

Thanks to the World Bank Uganda team who knew these difficulties beforehand and decided to address them in our meeting with them. In growing economies like ours, we tend to find it hard to commit to paying taxes. We always have that one other reason as to why this tax is inappropriate and that tax is uncalled for.  Rarely does it come out of will to have the taxes filed. Those who do deserve a pat on the back. Last year, Uganda Revenue Authority released a list of faith based organizations paying tax and you could tell that even among the men of God, paying back what belongs to Caesar was not coming with much ease. But why be judgmental? We are all human struggling to swallow this bitter pill.

As a nation, there is a lot of subsistence living within both the rural and the urban and it is done in such a way that it goes without record keeping. It cannot be traced. Growing a tax paying culture may (and will) take some time.

One thing about a conversation on tax is that it is first individual before it gets to a whole. An individual needs to find out how their paying tax will be of help to them. “I stay in Kira and my road has not been worked on for the last five years I have been there.” Such deeply seated sentiments ought to be addressed before one can talk of how the entire national tax collected only contributes 13% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Common in the news today is the latest update from URA of where next they are going to raise the tax. The tax pool has been growing wider since the year began and many people are not happy about it, partly because not much explanation is made as to why. No one is coming out to say that only one million of the forty plus population actively pays their tax. It goes without mention that a number of professional firms are not paying tax and neither is there a format of how they should be taxed. And yet a number of emerging firms are suffocating because of too much tax, also at times, unexplained. That a lot of tax is on income yet a lot goes untaxed under the consumption bracket.

There is need to have an organized system where tax collection is known, where the pools are defined and clearly labeled. Maybe then and there, there will be fewer numbers of people fidgeting with the tax payment process to survive. Maybe then, we shall all take part in the celebration of a growing tax base that currently stands at only 55%. By closing the leakages in the current instruments of tax collection and improving online platforms like PIN acquisition will enable many to take part in the process.

That if we could have the government deliberately declare what the tax does, where it goes and who is responsible for what, there will be fewer questions and more answers. Until then, the design remains so good on paper and yet poorly implemented.

Like Racheal Sebudde emphasizes, tax is a burden that should be put in place but with ways that make its payment a welcome gesture other than a runaway factor. Until then, we may never know that in countries like Denmark, the government takes away 50% of one’s income and they make sure that public services are duly provided.

Abstaining from having conversations on tax will only distance many from making their contribution towards tax payment. Let’s talk tax, shall we?

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Into this world

It is a few minutes past three o’clock in the afternoon and the coaster is roaring through the Kinyara Sugar Plantation negotiating a hill. Inside the coaster, silence screams all over the place. Some passengers are asleep with helpless bodies tilting along to every turn the coaster makes. Others have since woken up and listened on to the quarrel of the engine limping upwards the rugged surface of the potholed road. Conversations have since died out. Books loosely held in hands half open with no more motivation of reading on. Everyone looks on. This is the third day on the road driving from one forest stop to another learning about the work of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in the communities neighboring Budongo Forest in Masindi and Hoima districts in Western Uganda.

27 years ago,JGI launched out to do its work in Ugnada in a bid to promote primate conservation around forest neighbouring communities. This came as a result of decreasing number of chimpanzees believed to, once, have been around one million but have fallen to less than three hundred thousand in Africa. Jane Goodall, a conservationist and primatologist took it upon herself to promote the conservation of these endangered species in the 1960s.

In Uganda, JGI established its services in areas in the Albertine Rift. These are known for having the highest accommodation rates of primates. This region covers twelve districts mainly in Western Uganda.

In three days we could not exhaust all the projects JGI is involved in in Masindi and Hoima alone given that the places are far apart and yet the organization runs very many activities. The institute is fully involved with established offices that take care of the various activities. Robert Atugonza, the Natural Resources and Livelihood Officer of JGI in this region leads us on a very interesting, adventurous, exciting and yet excruciating journey.

On the very first day of the trip after making a soft landing in Masindi, we set off for Kapeeka communities to see what the communities are doing in line with promoting conservation in the outskirts of Budongo Forest. Kapeeka is a one hour drive through the overly layered green hills and plains of Kinyara Sugar Plantation punctuated with small pockets of forest reserves lying low in the valleys where baboons find accommodation. It is a common sight along this route to see baboons crossing the road to find sugarcanes to eat. Kapeeka is a small trading centre north of Kinyara town. It is a home for working people. At 4pm when we get there, men and women carry their farm equipment on their shoulders as they make way home. The day has come to an end. Old men sit by round tables sipping on local gin with eyes cast to the road. Children run around in a chase screaming at trucks dropping off plantation workers from the fields.

The evening comes with its daily routine of small meetings, the wet path from the borehole and the dust hanging in the air all living signs of a day coming to an end but not on our side. We are interested to learn about the works of the people of Kapeeka. And we are glad to spend the rest of the hour with Arii Emily touring his projects. He is one of the beneficiaries of JGI. Soon we make our way out of this active and vibrant trading centre tracing our way back to the hotel to plan for the following day.

On our second day, we drive east of Masindi Town. This time round, we are headed to the Budongo Eco Forest. We make a stopover at the Budongo Eco Forest Lodge which is run by Uganda Lodges Limited. Here, we meet Evelyn Bingi, a guide who is to lead us to a chimpanzee trek. At the lodge, we meet Peter Oyet, the lodge custodian. Peter tells us the facility at the lodge was constructed by JGI with help from USAID. It was then handed over to Uganda Lodges for management. The team takes a break as it tours around the magnificent wooden piece of art that harbors all the freshness of the forest. Evelyn is a super guide. She has the details of the forest on her fingertips. She has been on the job for the last ten years. For this reason we are safe and set to begin the trek not before we tuck in our trousers in the socks should the red ants choose to feast on these forest strangers.

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Peter Oyet shares details about Budongo Eco Forest Lodge. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr

We walk 7 kilometres into the forest with the minimum noise ever before we can find a mating chimpanzee couple romancing up the tree. I lose track of Evelyn’s guidance. Her word, I lose. Her command, I forget. I miss out on the details of the couple’s names. Every chimpanzee has a name. In the 1960s, Jane Goodall through her research at Gombe in Tanzania, she realized the close resemblance of mannerisms and character between chimpanzees and human beings, and she thought that chimps too should be called by name other than numbers as was the case with all wildlife. Since then, chimpanzees have had a privilege of being addressed by name or rather by the pronoun of their gender.

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The chimpanzee couple before a massage session. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr

The search for other chimpanzees yields no fruits as the team is already rowdy and silence has since been forgotten. After an hour of extra tracking, we decide to call it a day. We drag our tired bodies out of the forest, at a pace half that we had while walking in. Jackets and hoodies that were covering faces have since been pulled off, tied in the waist to let sweat have some breathing space. Our lady friends have since lost all their makeup and neither are they willing to remake up their faces at this time of the afternoon. The rule had been clear; not to carry food to the forest. The drums of hunger and thirst are beating loudly. We jump onto the coaster rich with a chimpanzee trek gone well. We reserve our experiences for ourselves and only marvel at the EVELYN. She is so adorable in the way she does her work but most importantly her vast knowledge of the forest. We bid our endless farewells to her. She waves back at us with a very wide smile.

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After the chimp trek with Evelyn Bingi, our guide. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr

 

The changing story of Kapeeka

When you meet him in his brown threadbare shirt and sandals that are yet to give way, you may not be able to tell that there is such a powerful story.

At the age of 51, Arii Emily is one of the happiest men you will meet in Kapeeka. His life has had a U-turn of sorts. A former hunter, Ari is one of the outstanding bee keepers registered in the Kapeeka Integrated Community Development Association (KACODA) an initiative that has been running for the last 7 years. His, is an interesting story.

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Sign post of KACODA photo by Ninno Jack

Born to hunting parents in Kapeeka, a community within the Budongo Forest conservation area, Arii did not get a chance of going to school. He took to his parent’s instruction of hunting game in the forest. He was not the only one. A number of people his age were like him. They looked up to the forest for their daily survival. They learnt early in life to set traps and also gather fruits at the same time. They began their day running to the forest and ended it by walking back home with game.

Unknown to them this was directly affecting the game population in Budongo forest. The number of animals was reducing by day.

Ten years ago, Arii’s life had a drastic change when the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) came to work among the communities of Kapeeka. JGI had one mandate; to interest the residents in giving up on relying on forests for their daily survival but rather take on means of generating revenue for themselves.

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Arii Emily tends to his nursery bed

In this community, JGI introduced the bee keeping and nursery bed preparation and tree growing. Arii picked a lot of interest in bee keeping and nursery bed management which is something he has done for the past four years. He is one of the leading tree seedling suppliers in the Kapeeka community. He is a bee keeper with 12 bee hives. There are two bee harvesting seasons in (March- April) and (August- September). Last season, he was able to harvest 30 liters of honey selling off 20. This earned him a profit if 300,000. He sells his honey to the cooperative. This also earns him savings to his account.

Today, he is able to take his three children to school and also meet their medical bills. This has improved his livelihood. On top of that, he is able to sell the seedlings to various farmers.

Arii is one among other stories of people whose life has changed within the area of Kapeeka and  Budongo at large. This has been the work of the Jane Goodall Institute working with the communities in close partnership with the National Forestry Authority.

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Robert Atugonza explains the work  of JGI in Kapeeka. Photo by Ninno Jack

The JGI took it upon itself to restore and conserve the population of chimpanzees that was quickly wearing out. This was to be done mainly by teaching the communities that shared the forest with the primates.

To have this addressed, JGI came up with alternative training to equip the people who wholly depended on the forest for their survival. They started seven years ago and today the story is different.

 

choose wisely – ugali or posho?

This is one of the ripe investments for people in saving groups.

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Ugali A plate of Ugali (Photo from http://jikonimagic.com)

LAST year, in two different WhatsApp groups I belong to that have nothing in common save for myself, two very disparate people sent two messages a couple of weeks apart saying exactly the same thing.

The first is an old-time friend who runs a family-owned Ugandan road construction firm that has grown consistently in leaps and bounds over the last twenty years. During the course of his work he has traversed Uganda while building roads, prospecting for more business, and playing golf.

The second is my cousin and friend, who turned his childhood passion into a line of employment and has spent his life listening to, playing and producing music for the rest of us. Again, in the process he has visited many parts of Uganda and made a wide variety of contacts who relish his company – especially on Friday nights in Guvnor…

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Women, Money and Politics

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The Fasi Fasi panel in conversation on Money in Politics

I once walked into the main reception at Bank of Uganda. As I waited for my turn to be served, my restless wandering eyes looked out around the waiting lounge as a way to familiarize myself with the place. Behind the seats of the ladies at the front desk, up on the wall hung a framed portrait of members of the board of Bank of Uganda. It was a team of very smart senior people. One thing stood out though. There was only one lady on a team of about eight.

In my head, the projector was switched on and slides of capable senior lady citizens of this beautiful country who would make it played one after another. But then I didn’t know the criteria followed in appointing members of the board. I let go.

This particular incident reminded me of a time when Tereza Mbire addressed us as students at Makerere University in 2015. She shared a story of how she was once appointed to the board of one of the leading banks in the country. Like the case with the Bank of Uganda picture, she was the only lady on the team.

When tea break came, she served herself a cup of tea which left other board members uncomfortable. They expected her to make tea for all of them (because she was the only woman in the room).

She had to remind them that with her presence with them as another board member, she was their equal and not a servant. To those who were present, it made a point.

In our society today, men are more privileged to assume and hold given placements in society. Much as this is true, to some extent, it can be contested.

It is only in very rare cases that power is handed down to one on a silver spoon. And even if it were, one has a role of protecting it. The dictates of society to have women waiting for their portion to be handed down from men is the reason for the male privilege.

While at university, I was on two campaigning teams for two different ladies in two different years. They were both competing for the guild. Being on the team exposed me to something I had not thought of. Expectations.

The voting body had the same expectations from these candidates as it did for the male counter parts. The voters did not look at candidates as per their gender rather by who was willing to identify with them and front their demands as a students body. There was no sympathy vote instead there was need for strategy to garner for more support and have the students vote for the various candidates.

However, for every step that a woman makes especially in terms of joining politics, she must be ready to stand her ground and defend her interests and demands just like any man. Like Nicholas Opiyo says, “Women should stop playing victims,  …they have to retool and engage their society.”

Politics, like any other aspect of life, requires one to stand their ground. Often times, this comes at a cost. In a situation like the one we have in Uganda where politics is monetized, it increasingly calls for the woman’s sternness to establish her footing, financially.

In Runyankore, there is a saying; “Omushaija obushaija abwetera.” Loosely translated
(A man chooses when to man up). For women to emerge and take center stage in politics, it will take their own efforts. They do not need to seek permission from anyone. In this country, we are not short of women who have made a significant mark in politics and i believe many others can make it too.

Fasi Fasi is a TV show brought together by UN Women, KAS Uganda and ACFODE with the aim of helping young Ugandan women to take up positions of leadership in business, community and politics. It airs on NBS TV every Thursday at 8:30pm. You can watch this particular episode here

Beginning 2018 with a blogging challenge

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Time to write that blog

The new year comes with a lot of excitement. A lot of resolutions and reflections are made. And to some, they take up new tasks.  My friends took up a challenge and they have proved out perform themselves. Any one who has taken up a blogging challenge knows how uphill of a task it can be keeping to it. Often times, it is easy to start but also very easy to call it quits.

Words have a way with which they tend to play in the mind before you decide to put them down. They are usually many and can make a complete story until you start writing, piecing the story together word by word, letter by letter.

This challenge, however, comes in a very simplified manner to help the writer easily cope with the writing. The one month challenge comes with guiding themes on how to go  about the exercise.

On day two, Judith shared under the day’s theme; I will never forget, she writes about how passion of talking to people but more so on the need to pass on knowledge. As she speaks to people, other people have also spoken into her life leading to a new dimension in her life. Here is her story.

the challenge has now crossed into half the month and the efforts to execute the challenges still carry on.

Day 16. Jayne left a sweet reminisce of Something that I miss  exploring through the wealth of great moments that were lived during her university days. She writes;

“Sometimes it takes an old song, a familiar face, to trigger sweet old memories – that feeling of nostalgia.  Memories of the care-free days, when our only worry was handing in that course work in time. Or having a date to take you out on the 14th of February.”

There are a lot of personal reflections that are yet to be done and realized through this writing challenge. Writing is a therapy that clears a clogged up mind. It is a lane that aligns and tames wandering thoughts that could easily turn lethal. Writing is a roof that shelters the unvoiced conversations of the heart. As the blogging goes on, challenge yourself to write like you have not written before just like how Ann did here  to overcome her fear.

“I want to live, to laugh, to learn every day and for me to do that – I have to overcome the fear of breaking out and just start being,” says Ann.

Here are the links to the various blogs;

owembabazi.wordpress.com

nikisspaceblog.wordpress.com

wholesomeconsult.com/wblog

 

These spaces have become our place

We fear to talk about ourselves in public. The public judges and at times we are not ready for the sentence. We hang in there waiting and hoping that things will be fine but maybe they take a bit longer. We wait. We wait in silence as the war wages on, on the inside of us. The hardest point comes when you cannot explain what is happening to you and yet you feel someone could just slide into your DM. This is the shocker. You read the letter of your mind wrangling to someone only for them to judge you in addition to spreading the word. In a patriarchal world, it saves to be silent. You don’t cry in public. You stay in there. You stay the course. These words we have learnt from the people around us and yet no one tells you of how to stay the course. No one says that. They call that consolation.

Now that I will none of the consolation. Permit me to disappear. I will go to the safe confines of my space where I am allowed to be. To liberate my mind to wander. To search for self. To go places unseen.

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I do not need to first subscribe to a clique for me to be happy. Neither do I need to belong for me to be able to establish myself. It comes as a hard thing to achieve but I will hold. The images, worry and fear of losing myself in the piteous self often come knocking hard on my door. But I refuse to sink in the boat of depression. I stand to shawl self in the resilient hope that things will be better. That once the sun is done with its rounds around the earth, it will soon be my turn to shine. And shine will I when my turn comes. Forget about wounds that never heal or scars that itch at every remembrance of pain. I refuse to subscribe to these newsletters of sadness that society keeps updating me with.

Going to church soon turns out like going to the bar or any other crowd where even among the many, you are alone. At the end of that church service, congregants divide into small groups of hugging fellows and should you not belong to any of them, you are all alone. The bar does not help either. People are always in groups and making the loudest noises as they rinse, all soberness, off of their heads.

I have learnt to be alone. To be happy even in the absence of company. This is the new me; finding peace within myself. The public may have its opinion. I have mine. I will hold on to it.