Saturday May 17 2014

Corruption makes citizens reluctant to pay taxes

By David F. K. Mpanga

The negative effect of crime is felt in three ways. First there is the perception or anticipatory fear of crime. If two houses on a single street are burgled, the owners of the other houses on that street begin to fear that they may be the next victims.

They increase their security and get startled by every little bump in the night. Second, is the physical injury or material loss and damage caused by crime.

Using the burglary example, the homeowners whose houses are broken into suffer physical damage to their houses and suffer loss of the property that is stolen.

Some things can be replaced, by insurance, which we should all have as a matter of course, or by dipping into savings. Sadly others, such as items of sentimental value or unbacked-up data that may be on electronic equipment that is stolen, cannot be replaced.

The third negative effect is the lingering psychological damage to the actual victims of crime. Crime, whether violent or dishonest, entails the violation of another person’s rights to privacy, property and/or integrity of their person. Anybody who has ever had the misfortune of being burgled will tell you quite how awful it feels, not just to lose your property but to have the sanctity of your home violated by a stranger.

A friend who was burgled once, told me that whilst it was easy for her to overcome the loss of the stolen items she could not quite overcome the literal feeling of disgust at the thought that some smelly stranger had been in her bedroom and rifled her personal belongings before helping himself to some jewellery and electronic items.

In violent physical offences such as rape, indecent assault or robbery, the lingering psychological effect may be worse than the physical injury suffered.

Corruption, or looting as I prefer to call it, has the same three pronged negative effects on the State and society at large. Because a few bad apples are looting State funds, everybody is afraid for all State funds and the perception is that all public officers are thieves, in some way or other. The looting also has a direct negative effect on all of the citizens who suffer the lack public services because the money intended for the provision of the same has been stolen.

The young mother who dies for lack of proper maternity care, the child who goes hungry and undereducated and the potholed road that ruins people’s cars and makes transport more expensive are all examples of the negative physical consequences of looting.

The nation’s development is also stunted by the looting and although this is hard to measure in quantifiable terms, one only needs to go to Singapore or South Korea to see what properly managed state funds can do and then feel bad for what has happened in Uganda, which was on a similar developmental footing with those countries 50 years ago.

Corrupt looting also causes psychological damage to the victim nation. I believe Ugandans’ aversion to taxation is a manifestation of this damage.

The payment of tax is a constitutional duty. We pay tax in order for the State to run and provide us with security of person and property, as well as other basic public services. But because a lot of tax money is looted, people have become not just reluctant to pay tax but totally averse to the payment of any tax at all. The payment of tax is a constitutional duty and it is the price that we pay to live in a civilised state.
Yes, taxation must be reasonable and progressive but we cannot get away with paying no tax at all. Responsible politicians of all hues must come out clearly on the need for payment of tax, as well as condemn the looting that is causing tax aversion and making massive tax evasion socially acceptable.
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