Sunday April 15 2018

Can a govt be formally declared a thief?


By Alan Tacca

Virtually all rulers claim a right to tax the citizens.
Indeed, without that right, I doubt whether many sane people would seek political power. And after winning that right, many risk going insane.

In some societies, citizens pay huge taxes; but if they are led by a decent government, the state returns to them substantial quantities of quality goods and services, and a sense of belonging.

Regardless of its ideological orientation, a corrupt government is bound to tax its citizens heavily, whether in tariffs or in slave-like labour, and return to the citizens the minimum in services it can get away with. Government officials will shamelessly loot the Treasury when mothers and babies are dying because the oxygen cylinders in government hospitals are empty.

Except to an incurable optimist, Uganda could conceivably sink to the bottom. The bolder NRM functionaries are openly calling their party a den of thieves. Yet some of the angry men are also openly demanding money from the party, talking of old (and probably dubious) invoices.

It looks like a very shabby cash-grab war. And no matter how creative the disguise, most of the party’s money is probably extracted from taxpayers.

The NRM and the State are often inseparable. But as an example of the moral emptiness under NRM rule, when Gen Kayihura was removed as the Inspector General of Police, one of President Museveni’s propagandists ranted on radio for days, maybe weeks; he was furiously challenging anyone to come out and tell the world what Gen Kayihura had stolen. The challenge was rhetorical, a furious assertion that the general had stolen nothing and should have, therefore, been left in place.

The President’s propagandist went further by alleging that the general had been dismissed because Uganda’s mafia did not want him to handle the multi-billion-shilling deal involving security cameras.

It was a troubling argument. Did the charges of incompetence and brutality against the police, the growing gangster culture and rising insecurity; did all these things mean nothing as long as Gen Kayihura could not be pinned down on a specific theft of public resources?

Was stealing public resources such standard practice that a senior official should have been forgiven all his shortcomings if he was not shown to be a thief?

Was an honest official such a rare specimen?
Then again, if the mafia could influence or control the President to cause such a sacking, did the mafia also determine the new appointments?

Since Gen Kayihura was not corrupt, as the propagandist assured us, it is reasonable to assume that Kayihura would have wanted to supervise and see an honest camera job completed.

However, if he was honest but incompetent, the deal could have still brought losses to the taxpayer.
Now, since the mafia sharks have apparently not gone away (or have they been arrested?), should we assume that it is only a matter of time before losses of the camera billions are announced?

And since some of our high officials seem to think that CCTV cameras and cell phone SIM cards are the alpha and omega of police work and internal security, what will the taxpayers get in the bargain?

This is only one of hundreds of those peculiar stories that are shaping Ugandans’ perceptions of the leadership of their country.
Huge tax hikes are now expected for 2018/2019. Is it not high time that there was an international institution that scrutinises the tax/expenditure record of governments, and – at a certain level of abuse – formally declares an errant government a thief?

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
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