President Museveni yesterday refused to congratulate Uganda Revenue Authority on its 30-year anniversary, saying the tax body is still dogged by poor performance and persistent corruption.
The President, who was the chief guest at the URA thanksgiving ceremony in Kampala, described thieves as “Judases” and the honest group as “Josephs,” before asking the Commissioner-General, Mr John Musinguzi Rujoki, to eradicate corruption.
Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 disciples, is known for betraying Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver, leading to Jesus’ arrest.
“I see you have been congratulating yourself, your minister of Finance, Matia Kasaija, has also congratulated you. But I did not; I was not even clapping because I know the story of URA,” the President said.
“The performance of the country’s revenue collection can be gauged by a universal yardstick, the GDP-tax ratio. If our GDP is $44 billion, our budget now is 40 trillion. If you collect 20 per cent of the GDP, you get almost enough money to finance the budget,” he said.
Tax to GDP ratio is a reflection of how much of a country’s output goes to government in form of tax receipts.
Mr Museveni, who was accompanied by his wife Janet, pointed out that the current revenue collection of Shs19 trillion is far below what is needed to finance the country’s budget, leading to the tendency of borrowing internally and externally.
He attributed this to the leakage caused by those entrusted with collecting revenue, whom he said divert it to their pockets.
The President explained that the haemorrhage in tax collection is mainly rampant at the border points where goods brought into the country are either under or falsely declared due to absence of scanners.
“The problem with URA is arrogance. You try to guide them but they don’t act. Scanners or X-ray machines will eliminate smuggling of goods. Modern technology simplifies work but my people have been avoiding this technology for reasons best known to them,” Mr Museveni said.
“We shall expose those who steal the money. If you are honest, you have a clear way forward in your life. You hear that I am now 77 years. I have gone through a lot of difficulties, but if you are working for God and the people! Therefore eradicate Judaism (corruption),” he added.
Nevertheless, the President was happy to learn that URA is expecting 39 scanners from China that will be used at border entry points.
He wondered why it took more than a decade after establishing URA for the tax collection base to be widened by a just single percentage point.
“I have heard the Commissioner General talking about 12 per cent tax base; why did it stagnate for that long while within a short time, we took it from 4 per cent to 11 per cent soon after setting up URA?” the President said.
“If the taxes are not being stolen, then what the problem is, what can you tell me about that? This means that I have a lot of Judas Iscariots at URA,” he added.
Mr Musinguzi in his remarks thanked all his predecessors for developing URA and vowed to have zero tolerance to corruption.
Mr Kasaija noted that the economy is improving despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Museveni in her dedication prayer thanked God for shepherding URA for the last 30 years, noting that the tax body stands today as one of the most effective institutions in the country.
The chairperson of the URA Board of Directors, Mr Juma Kisaame, said the tax body has matured and is now ready to take on the new journey with zeal and dedication for a brighter future.
URA officials say the body has registered a number of successes for the last 30 years, including earning the government’s trust in its capacity to transparently collect and account for all revenues.
In July, URA opened its revenue collection account for the Financial Year 2020/2021 with a surplus of about Shs278 billion. They attributed the surplus revenue registered, to among other things, the rolling out of digital tax stamps (DTS) whose purpose is to deter under-declaration at production and importation levels.