One of the crops I produce on my farm is maize, so I arranged to sell ten tons to a merchant who has his stores in Matugu. Hence I sent my truck from the farm in Kyenjojo to Matugu in Wakiso District. This journey takes one through many districts, but was uneventful until the truck reached Wakiso District when it was stopped by the police, accompanied by local government officials.
I then received a call saying that the truck was going to be impounded unless we paid 480,000 shillings as a tax being levied by Wakiso District Council for unloading in their district. The story was that driver of the truck had been asked on previous occasions to pay for a sticker to unload within Wakiso at a cost of 40,000 per month but the driver had refused. The driver stated categorically that no such demand had been made and he was completely unaware of any ‘unloading tax’. According to the police and the Wakiso District officials we were therefore on a list of defaulters, but instead of giving us a fine, they would ‘generously’ just ask us to pay for stickers for one year in advance at a cost of 480,000.By the time I got involved, the truck had been held for several hours as they argued back and forth. I spoke by phone to the local government officials who said all I had to do was to pay their unloading tax and the truck could be on its way, otherwise it would be impounded at the district headquarters over the weekend. After some very heated exchanges I decided to pay the 480,000 rather than put the maize and the truck at risk. I might come back on Monday morning to find that someone had relieved me of my unloading problem by making the maize disappear.
Now this incident was plain highway robbery: my truck was stopped by the traffic police, and we were told to pay almost half a million shillings or have our truck impounded. This is how highway robbers operate – they stop a coach and make the demand – your money or your life. Also, if this highway robbery by Wakiso District is legal, what is to stop all local districts stopping all vehicles and demanding that they pay for the privilege of passing through their district? In fact if Kampala Capital City Authority charged the inland container depots and oil companies for the massive trucks and oil tankers they bring into the city, such a levy could be justified on the basis of paying for the damage inflicted on the roads. Although Jennifer Musisi muted this plan almost ten years ago, I am not aware that KCCA ever implemented any additional charge on heavy trucks unloading in Kampala.
On the other hand if Wakiso can legally collect 480,000 shillings per year on all trucks that unload within their district (not just very heavy trucks) they will be the richest district in Uganda – but the question is – is it legal? Can any district just start dreaming up taxes and threatening to impound vehicles? If a district can charge tax simply for unloading, since trucks exist to carry goods that they must unload, what will be the end result? Such an unloading tax on trucks is like taxing motorists when they stop and unload their passengers – you have stopped in our district so you need to pay for unloading human beings.
We talk about being part of the East Africa Community and even joining the Africa Free Trade Agreement with the removal of various taxes and barriers in order to make regional and continental trade flow easily. But how will we achieve this if we cannot even trade between districts without having some random local tax imposed? If we do not have free trade between districts within our country, how will we manage free trade between countries?
I have written to the Minister of Agriculture regarding this incident because he should fight for the interests of the agricultural sector and those who produce goods for export. If producers are being penalized with more spurious taxes, how will we grow the agricultural sector? This tax is arbitrary, and against the development of the country, but does anyone in central government really care? Or can any district just dream up some random taxes and impose them on vehicles using legalized highway robbery?