“WOMEN AND TAX” – By Hon. Adeke Anna Ebaju

In this post, we are delighted to have the Honourable Adeke Anna Ebaju (National female youth Member of the Ugandan Parliament) share with us a policy recommendation piece that addresses the constitutional rights and livelihoods of Ugandan women in relation to the excise duty tax amendment bill of 2018.

PREFACE

In this era of globalisation, economies are struggling to finance or subsidise innovation. Because of this desperate goal, there is a need of unlimited use of affordable internet in the economy. This is because of its direct impact to economies in this high tech revolution. Its bearing on innovation within the value chain and its subsequent effect on product prices can never be undermined. For the associated economic, social and political advantages furthered by internet (including those directly associated with rights of citizens and their civic political participation as presented in the constitution) countries around the world are moving to the provision of free internet to their people. Waving taxes on the basic internet uses and on associated technologies/innovations with the aim of making them affordable. Internet bolsters the right of access to information, accountability, and primarily those of women a majority of whom are employed in the informal sector. Internet fosters a competitiveness between products, including competition against foreign products which crowd the limited local market. The Over the top services (OTTS) which run on the internet provide a level-headed platform for adverse advertisement of businesses in the informal sector which cannot thrive in the formal sector due to the associated costs. On the other hand, associated technologies such as mobile money ease monetary transactions and provide avenues of access to credit. Both of these provide employment to citizens especially women in the informal sector. Why then impose an indiscriminate and onerous tax on these two (mobile money and OTTS), capable of crippling the citizens access to them, when there is still a lot more corporations making away with hefty profits? The OTTS offer information and services in real time. They are a cheap and affordable means of communication. They fasten the relay of information which might be vital for the security of a country like Uganda. Of course, social media has increasingly become a platform for citizens to hold leaders accountable but should that be wrong! It is a civic right and duty which the law provides for.

THE CONSTITUTION AND INNOVATION:

Development (Social/Political/economic) in African states may be equated to an animal roaming in the wilderness. Unfortunately, in Africa, for one hunt, there are two sides. These is the government and its people. These two sides work to bring the same hunt (Prosperity, revenue, development, security) to the same table. Because that hunt has two hunters, there is a likelihood of a murky contest as to the means by which the two parties participate in this hunt. Therefore, to regulate the relationship of these two, it is more than pertinent to have a constitution. This constitution is the document which strikes the balance through (permissions and prohibitions) between these two contending hunters. It ensures that in the governments’ quest to retain power and finance its establishment, and in the citizens’ quest for prosperity and enjoyment of rights, none impedes the other. Cognisant of this necessity, the constitution stipulates rights and freedoms and empowers the courts and the people to observe and protect, not only the enjoyment of these rights but the means to the maximum enjoyment of these rights.

Uganda is a unique case: with a turbulent and regrettable post-independence political history, the constitution places another foot headlong, urging the custodians of the law to in their quest of fulfilling their mandates, and their citizens in a quest of exercising their rights, to not allow a recap of the events before 1995. Those events were characterised by the states’ clamp down on the freedom of expression, the right to self-governance, the right to equality under the law, the rights of women, an unstable economy, limited innovation ; to mention but a few.

It is from the existence of this order that the springs of innovation to grow a state socially, politically, and economically emanate. The subject of public debate recently has centred on two innovations: mobile money and Internet use. The state seeking to gain from taxing them and the citizens protesting that these taxes do impede their enjoyment of these innovations. Hesitate not to state that, the enjoyment of these two innovations (Mobile Money and Internet Services) is not a mere luxury, it is a necessary venture to further the enjoyment of some constitutional rights and freedoms. In fact, it is a necessity born out of the rigorous emphasis by the constitution of protection of freedoms of expression, access to information, the right to education, equality and self-governance. These rights enjoin both citizens and government to design strategies and means to maximise their enjoyment and curse/lift any impediments to the realisation of the same. As if the framers were aware that, to innovate you must learn/obtain a decent education, and to get a decent education you must have access to information. Information goes as far as being a central issue on maintenance of security, protection of rights, freedom of expression, and determines what comprises informed consent (therefore at the centre of democratic governance). The enjoyment of these innovations has explicit foundations in the constitution whose history I have recounted and must at all times be tailored to meet the threshold.  In other words, they must not be an obstacle to the enjoyment of the constitutionally guaranteed space/entitlements under the bill of rights, but must aid the enjoyment.

Recently, the state promulgated an amendment to its excise duty and tax laws. To be specific, the new law allows a 1% charge on all mobile money transactions, and levies a Shs. 200 tax on the use of OTT internet Services.

The question in the public domain is: Do these new taxes live up to the constitutional position of furthering rather than crippling the enjoyment of rights by citizens? Do they further the intentions of the constitution? These questions I am going to attempt to precisely answer here:

The New Order

We live in a time when hard earned gains in the field of fundamental human rights – gains which until recently seemed irreversible are facing new and powerful threats. Notably, in Uganda the threats include; the growing impunity of the state, bulging insecurity characterised by the recent string of femicides, extrajudicial attacks hinged on arbitrary morality intended/targeting to cripple any formidable exertion of women, un-constitutionalism/disregard of the rule of law, etcetera. The irony is that in the face of new real threats, governments in Africa are well drunken with retention of power. Like a hungry zombie, often turning against their people and in the exercise of the power granted to them, generating and furthering even more of this paucity. African governments, including Uganda have metamorphosed from the rule in accordance with the constitution to the rule by law. The kind of rule which allows a leader to say:

“the law allows me to tax, and these wanainchi are just there rumormongering / speaking so much for free: in fact they are even rumormongering about me; why don’t I levy a cost on each one of these subjects for the act of conversation with their friend.”

Mark the tone in the expression of this leader, thumping his chest for being a nationalist…

That very mind-set and tone, a leader who only a few years ago asserted his promises to the people and returned himself as winner of their hearts uses to justify his illicit acts to them and says:

“that is the meaning of this authority. As the fountain of honour, I am by right allowed to please and displease as I wish- picks two billion and gives the tax man as thanksgiving for doing a job they are sufficiently paid to do”

The former forgets his responsibility to protect the freedoms of speech and expression of his people, the very means by which he communicates to them” and the latter overlooks his responsibility to account for his actions, and treat all citizens with equality irrespective of their political, social and economic class.”

This new order of RULE BY LAW has given governments an unfounded liberty to swing the sword ahead of their electorate as they wish. Not minding how many heads they may lacerate, nor that their first responsibility is to guarantee the protection of the livelihoods of those whom they lead rather than create more space for themselves to propel their own selfish establishments.

Is the tax levied on the use of OTTs (social media and other communication applications-the newest and most popular means by which citizens exercise their freedom of expression) an example of such a new order?

Is the tax levied on the tax levied on OTTS and mobile money transactions an example such an illicit exercise of constitutional authority? The reckless swinging of the sword?

When a state and its leaders reach this point, it is clear, the abuse of its partnership with citizens. Undoubtedly, the aggrieved citizens must with the remedy of the law protest and contest the relationship.

THE EXCISE DUTY AMENDMENTS AND RIGHTS OF WOMEN

Taxing oneself to prosperity.

Government approved new tax laws on OTTS and mobile money. These tax amendments are contained in the Excise duty (Amendment) Act 2018. As per the law, a tax of the value of 1% shall apply to mobile money transactions on receiving money, making payments and on the withdrawals of this money. This means government shall seize 3% of the amount of money in every transaction made. (With the public outcry, there are intentions to revise the cost to 0.5% and to interpret transactions across from banks to mobile as to exclude them from payments taxable under the new law)

An illustration of the impact of this tax can best be made by drawing an inference from the earnings of a mother, leading an Arcadian life, eager to profit from the long awaited enhanced salary scale. This post primary teacher of science will earn about 1.4 million per month. Following the deductions of NSSF and Income tax, she will have a net income of 1m shillings. If the teacher opts to receive her salary by mobile money, government is taking 10,000 (1%) of it. This will leave her with 990,000. If she pays fees of her child at 400,000, government will take another 1% of 4000 shillings. If she chooses to pay YAKA, another 1%. This cycle will continue for all her expenses until there is left nothing at all for government to  tax.

Presently, the telecommunications companies don’t charge one for depositing fees on his mobile money account. For sending, the price is 1,500 for 1 million shillings. The person withdrawing is being charged 12,500 shillings. This has gone up by 15%, meaning, the government will take 2,175 shillings from the money you pay to the telecommunications service provider.

That is how much that female teacher and you are parting with on mobile money, currently worse than a bank which for the expenses associated to them, and their financial rules and inconveniences have since failed to penetrate the informal sectors.

Women in the Ugandan economy:

The Ugandan economy is largely comprised of the informal sector. This includes small businesses supported by knowledge of basic entrepreneurship, running on very little capital, selling imported products with very limited returns and enjoying a very limited market. In the face of an aggressive and uncompromising wave of unemployment, most of Uganda’s’ youthful citizenry spawns income for day to day survival from these. Out of the 37 million people, a majority of about 60 percent youths is youthful women. Owing to the looming social and economic injustices attached to their being women, these youthful women, most of whom are unemployed are financing their livelihood from the small scale retail/ businesses including acting as airtime and mobile money agents in the informal employment sector. Majority of them are feeding their children and funding their basic needs through the sale of airtime, the mobile money transaction businesses, through fashion and modelling: majority of these small enterprises are being promoted/advertised over the internet. Some cannot afford the rent down town, so they have established small stalls on the space which internet run media provides. In the face of the shortages and challenges ignored by their government, these endeavours are to support them financially, and socially or fill the gap created by the very paucities stemming from the dysfunction of governments systems. . In other countries, to live as a woman is not as expensive as it is in Uganda. This is because, through policy, these governments have largely subsidized services or commodities which directly benefit the livelihoods of women e.g. provided education scholarships, established special grants for women to improve access to capital, provided free decent maternal care, handled promptly and expeditiously cases  in courts so as to correct injustices against women (Rape, marital causes, defilement) and above all, enhance checks and balances to fasten meritocracy in the system chain of delivery of these services. These challenges are in fact envisaged in international law and in the Ugandan constitution, and in fact, the same law under article 33 provides that – the state shall accord such assistance as to enable the women realise their full potential. Whereas the economy in Uganda continues to make short strides, the government has ignored to passably invest in one of its most vital aboriginal sectors: the women in the informal businesses. None of the former advantages has been provided without the means being abused or the funds being plundered. Some like special economic grants (Women’s livelihood programmes), marital laws (marriage and divorce bill) and educational scholarships are cosmetic endeavours and have died on arrival.

Alas! Dominating the largely informal sector in the country, women in Uganda are the major drivers of the Ugandan economy. It means that, any form of economic policy with a direct bearing on the informal sector has a direct bearing on them. Economic policies such as regressive taxes have the ability to negatively and grossly impact on the prosperity of women in the informal sector. This not only leads to the crippling of the sector, but also means that the economic and social progress of the women shall be stifled.

Women, the economy and tax:

It is true that, informal workers – majority of whom are women – are already paying taxes e.g. VAT, income tax, import tax for the small goods they sell down town. These taxes are being paid in larger amounts in relation to their income if compared with what corporations pay. Having in mind that women have populated the country’s economic base (which is largely hinged on small enterprises), it is really agreeable that women pay severely as a result of the regressive tax and budget policies implemented in this age of fiscal austerity. Such regressive tax policies are those which, even with a benefit of doubt as to the motive, lead to the collapse of these small enterprises. They deter the progress of these businesses. Instead of aiding them, they strangle them. They seize every slight streak of life in them. These taxes are unequitable, they are arrived at without satisfactory consultation. They are hasty, kneejerk and imprudent. And because they ignore the gender aspect of how they will brunt and crash the prosperity of women, they are unconstitutional.

The introduction of the 1% additional tax on all transactions of mobile money is an example of these taxes. The 15% charges on withdrawal and deposit charges, which is leading to the increase in cost of monetary mobile transactions and keeping customers away from mobile money stalls is one of them. It makes the business of mobile money trade very expensive. It discourages rural Ugandan mobile money users from using the mobile money because of the cost of transacting using the service. These two consequences shrink the profit in form of commissions, reduces the income of the woman trading in the service downtown and impacts on the women’s capacity to sustain their lives. If the use of mobile money becomes less lucrative, it will affect other innovations. The innovations such as “wewole”, “ayo insurance” and credit facilities linked to mobile money shall fall. The affordability and reliability of mobile money has been instrumental to the propagation of countless innovations in the field of finance such as Wewole (these are credit extension platform) and AYO insurance (Mobile health insurance). There is another way to increase government revenue without suffocating these opportunities for the very poor and needy women on the street. To impose any regulations on Mobile Money increases the cost of these credit and insurance facilities which accrue as a direct benefit from the popularity of Mobile Money trade.

With the dominance of women in the informal sector, there is no shame on saying that a tax like this one is a “tax on women.” Worse still, the government is very unwilling to give assurance that women needs such as maternity wards and cheap maternity care will be provide. That the fight against pilfering of property from women, crimes meted out against women for being women shall be attended to. Even with the taxes they pay, the women continue to hustle for their access to amenities which enable them meet their needs. Pads for girls are a burden to the government. Free maternal care is a burden to government! Social protection of women is a burden to government! Prosecution of domestic violence is a burden to government! Now the businesses dominated by women are a burden to government! Clearly, the government should find other alternatives. It is bizarre to regurgitate the song from most of these staunch movementists on how our country desperately needs about 70 billion dollars to achieve its MDG goals yet we continue to lose 16 billion in tax revenue because of mispricing and false invoicing and multifarious forms of capital flight! Instead of hurrying to tax women and citizens, can the government rectify the anomalies in that sector to save that income?

Women today face many threats in this country, but among the most insidiously pervasive are the human rights deprivations and disparities which arise from increasingly regressive taxation, let alone the deep cut in the chain of access to public services. This tax has added itself to them. Only yesterday, many women thrived in this informal sector, now the government has extended its whip to cause havoc on their source of livelihood. Entrepreneurship by these SMES as a source of income to many women is a truth which only yesterday was self-evident is now being challenged by the status quo. We ought to stand up and challenge the explicit and implicit biases (which may skip the mind of those in the chair) against women embedded in tax policies and to demonstrate the urgency of moving to more just alternatives which fulfil women’s rights.

Like Steve Forbes once remarked: “… this tax amendment is a monstrosity and there is only one thing to do with it, scrap it, kill it, drive a stake through its heart, buy it, and hope it never rises again to terrorise the people…”

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Taxation should be a means to ensure that revenues sought are raised in an equitable manner.
  • Tax policy should accord a gender approach to taxation, bringing taxes to terms with the burdens caused to the women.
  • Taxation and budgetary planning should envisage the need to level the field base especially to provide for urgent attendance to needs of women
  • Taxation should be designed in such a way that it recognises the role of eco systems for a simultaneous development to the whole country.
  • Taxes should endeavour to create an environment of equitable income distribution.
  • We should change our methods of budget presentations to ensure adequate participation of citizens and seek to address the undesirable impacts on the most affected citizens.
  • States should before designing taxes, show and reaffirm their recognition of rights such as those of women which require extra resources.
  • The state should do a reassessment of budgets, exemptions, waivers on taxes in the terms of lost revenue.
  • The state should reaffirm its commitment to observation of international law.

~

Hon. Adeke Anna Ebaju MP

National Female Youth Constituency MP

Shadow Minister for Youth and Children

Parliament of the Republic of Uganda,

Plot 16-18 Parliament Avenue

P.O.BOX. 7178 Kampala

Uganda

Tel: +256 784 792708

Email: aadeke@parliament.go.ug

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