Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cart Before the Horse: Workers MP's are Offside.

Dear Sir,


Uganda's lack of a strong trades union system was supposed to be solved by the representation of workers in parliament. Trades union, though a good for the workers, can cause damaging instability for fragile economies like Uganda's that already have it rough recovering from total breakdown. Representation in parliament was supposed to act for workers as a substitute for them.


Representation of workers in parliament has hardly achieved much for them. A simple look at the streets of Kampala and other towns will reveal cleaners unhealthily working without protective gear. This is the same case in building and road construction. The workers' MP's have never sought legislation disqualifying contractors who do not provide protective wear for their employees from winning central and local government contracts. No worthy potential contractor would not like to qualify for a government contract, therefore such rules would be complied with by many. Also a poor and exploitative public transport system hurts workers most but, notoriously, workers' MP's are 'deafeningly' silent about it. The high and unpredictable fares, on top of scarcity of PSV's at peak hours, hurt the worker financially and mentally every single working day. This affects productivity and potentially makes Uganda's labour force less competitive, thus discouraging investment and threatening Ugandans' employment opportunities. These MP's have never sought legislation compelling tender boards to include service users who are in most cases workers. Awards of public transport management tenders therefore seldom have any input from passengers because they have no designated representation, hence the exploitative nature of the industry.


It is my opinion, therefore, that opposition to the proposed local service tax by workers' MP's is myopic and disgustingly populist. What should be opposed is any unfair assessment of each individual's obligations to make sure that it is not oppressive; not the tax per se. The tax has the potential of increasing employment opportunities and improving service delivery in rural towns and areas. Though not easy to accurately establish, I am certain that employed Ugandans have in some way borne the burden of the unemployed and poor service delivery in rural areas through disbursements for everything from extended family members' school uniforms to human and animal medical care. An increase in public cash in rural areas has the potential of stimulating economic activity there and reducing financial burdens on directly elected politicians who are costing the economy a lot of money.


Our workers' MP's should instead be constructive and suggest that the Bonna Bagaggawale scheme, SACCO's, commercial banks, microfinance and other financial institutions incorporate the local service tax into the products and services offered to their customers. This would most of all go a long way in popularising and promoting a saving culture among workers at all levels. Local governments can use these institutions to collect the tax as well as distribute the tax certificates in convenient ways to both the taxpayer and collector. Those who feel that a lump sum payment would hurt them can make arrangements with their respective financial services provider to pay for them the full amount which would be recovered in instalments convenient to and agreed upon by both parties. After all is said, the local service tax should not be outrightly opposed. What should be opposed is the magnitude of its burden on payers.


Martin Makara,


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