Can the business community spark a social revolution?

Although EFRIS is not a tax, some traders have described it as double taxation, hence calling on government to suspend it.

Revolutions are complex processes that emerge from the social order becoming frayed in many areas at once.

Gladstone (2013), outlines five elements that create an unstable social equilibrium: economic or fiscal strain, alienation and opposition among the elites, widespread popular anger at injustice, a persuasive shared narrative of resistance and favourable international relations.

However, in the case of Uganda, there is evidence to show that what has been called National Resistance Movement (NRM) revolution and liberation of the country, and a struggle for democracy and freedom in President Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s book “The Mustard Seed”.

Goldstone says: “revolutions have both structural and transient causes. Structural causes are long-term and largescale trends that undermine existing social institutions and relationships.

Transient causes are contingent events or actions by particular individuals or groups that reveal the impact of longer-term trends and often galvanize revolutionary oppositions to oppositions to take further action”. Ayesha Khan (2023) says that revolutions are made up of ordinary people.

For example, the industrial revolution that swept Europe over three centuries ago and the scientific-technological revolution that drove it, and continues to sweep the whole world, were/are revolutions of ordinary people with entrepreneurial, scientific and technical mindsets gifted to lead those human endeavours.

Goldstone adds: “The revolution will not be some grand, large-scale, brief, sudden, acute, publicised, televised moment where we go from oppression to freedom.

It will not just be the militant burning down of corporate towers or political estates or ivory towers or cop cars. It will be so much more than that, and it will be slow, gradual, complex and sustainable.

It also means each step towards it will be critical and each moment we practice how to be free allows us to strong relationships ultimately allow us to be more militant safely because we are together and harder to suppress or manipulate.

Armed resistance is more effective when we are emotionally intimate and deeply connected to each other.

In glamouring the revolution as some hypothetical utopia of tomorrow, we overlook the daily revolutionary moments, lessons and acts of care or mutual aid that we can engage in today. Our most important lessons come from the humble process of building reciprocal relationships”.

When people and their communities are emotionally intimate and deeply connected to each other and, therefore, difficult to suppress and manipulate, they can sense together, feel together, have collective wisdom, collective concerns and act together against the oppressor.

They build the reciprocal relationship to respond to threats and dangers that would otherwise overwhelm individuals.

This reminds me of why President Tibuhaburwa Museveni preferred individual merit approach to leadership and governance when he captured the instruments of power in 1986 through the barrel of the gun.

He wanted to destroy the interconnectivity and oneness of Ugandans and the power of reciprocal relationships between clans, communities, regions, and even businesses.

He later used the Constitution whose making he presided over – the Uganda Constitution 1995 – to accrue all power and authority to himself so that he could easily suppress and manipulate every aspect of structure and function of the country: ecological-biological, socioeconomic, sociocultural, sociopolitical, and even the time and timescales government allocated to events and processes in the country.

There is nothing he cannot suppress or manipulate, thanks to the Uganda Constitution 1995, which empowers the institution of President at the expense of all other institutions to the extent that it is only the institutions of President, State House and the military that can be said to be working well without being suppressed and manipulated by the President of Uganda.

This article concentrates on the business sector in Uganda and to what extent it has been suppressed and manipulated by the President of Uganda., and then ask: Can the business community in Uganda initiate a sociopolitical revolution?

There was a time in my lifetime when I was almost convinced that people who carried out revolutions and called themselves revolutionaries was a special category of the human species, Homo sapiens, born to be revolutionaries. 

Ayesha Khan (2023) recently confirmed that anyone can be a revolutionary and don’t need to wield a gun and wage war against a reigning government for years to qualify to be a revolutionary. 

The business community is a very influential force politically, economically and socially.

In Uganda today it is dominated by Indians, Chinese and people who belong to the sane ethnic group as the President of Uganda.

Some powerful business actors have funded politicians in the country, including the President himself.

Some own schools and universities, apart from a fleet of hotels, supermarkets, petrol stations, ranches, construction firms, and consistently get deals from government to perform certain tasks such as building roads and dams.

Indians and Chines own factories, get tax holidays and even without fear or favour openly violate the Competition Act 2023.

For example, since the enforcement of EFRIS, the local manufacturers have been distributing their manufactures to retailers in the countryside, which wholesale traders say violates the Competition Act, 2023.

In the business environment, reciprocal relationships can involve executives, employees or customers.

Having successful business relationships involves an understanding of the parties involved and what they bring to the table. 

Reciprocal relationships require a give and take on both sides; for example, on the side of a particular business and government. 

There is no limit to the kinds of exchanges that occur within reciprocal relations as long as the exchange is legal and all parties are aware of the parameter of exchange.

In fact, most businesses are built on the principle of reciprocal relationships and it is one of the bedrocks upon which long lasting business relationships are built.

Thus, reciprocity in a relationship is characterized by: Each partner feeling able to share their needs. A willingness to meet the needs of the other person. Open and honest communication.

Although the Uganda Government long ago tried to disengage itself from doing business but privatising all the state enterprises by selling them to individuals and foreign firms, there is evidence that it returned itself to the business world by creating numerous statutory institutions which perform business with numerous businesses.

However, for the most part, government interacts with businesses by raising taxes so that it can perform what the public expects of it or to maintain itself and its institutions. However, for businesses to perform well and support the economy through paying taxes, there must be reciprocity between them and the government.

We recently experienced a thawing of relationship between government and the African business actors of Kampala, mainly because of government’s approach of Command-Obey to almost everything conceivable in the governance of the country, including taxation.

The issue of contention was something new in the management of taxation called EFRIS-Electronic Fiscal and Invoicing Solution”, introduced by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), of course in consultation with government.

EFRIS entails the use of Electronic Fiscal Devices (EFDs), e-Invoicing, or direct communication with business transaction systems to manage the issuance of e-receipts and e-invoices in accordance with the Tax Procedures Code Act 2014 passed by the Parliament of Uganda and assented to by the President of Uganda.

Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) started implementing EFRIS in 2021 to address tax administration challenges relating to business transactions and the issuance of receipts.

The system helps URA assess the right taxes using accurate and authentically-generated information.

It also enables businesses to thrive with improved record-keeping and monitored stock and sales, among others. 

Thus, EFRIS involves the use of e-Invoicing through the URA web portal and direct communication with business transaction systems (system to system connection), electronic Fiscal Devices (EFDs) and Electronic Dispenser Controllers (EDCs) to manage the issuance of e-receipts and e-invoices.

Once a transaction is initiated using any of the EFRIS’ components, transaction details are automatically transmitted to URA in real time to generate e-receipts and e-invoices.

However, African traders have protested its implementation on grounds that it presents several challenges, notably: It imposes a high cost of compliance; 

Most traders don’t understand the system; and It applies to all traders irrespective of whether they are VAT registered or not. 

Traders have also expressed concern that EFRIS is complicated and necessitates the employment of individuals with IT and accounting skills, yet the majority of wholesale traders have minimal formal education.

They sought to meet the President in the hope that he would act presidentially to free them from the electronised taxman (URA). They did not link EFRIS with the President who actually assented to the Tax Procedures Code Act 2014.

It appeared as if they thought URA was independent of the President, yet it was his idea that it was established to increase the volume of tax collections in the country.

It was set up on 5th September 1991 by an Act of Parliament as a central body for the assessment and collection of specified revenue, to administer and enforce the laws relating to such revenue and to provide for related matters.

In the FY 2022/23, URA had a net revenue target of sh25,151.57b. However, it surpassed this goal and collected sh25, 209. 05b this represented a remarkable 100.23 per cent performance with a surplus of sh57.48b.

On February 1 2023, URA said URA is expected to collect sh13,481.54b during this remaining half of the financial year to hit the annual target of sh25,151.57b.

Key initiatives that URA wanted to employ are further emphasis on tax education and sensitization, stakeholder collaboration and engagements as well as the continued roll out of technology such as EFRIS and skilling of staff.

Therefore, EFRIS is a trusted lifeline for URA which the President also trusts as the ultimate custodian of all the revenue in Uganda as the Minister of Finance assisted by Matia Kasaija, and Governor of Bank of Uganda assisted by Michael Atingi-Ego, the perennial Deputy Governor of the central bank, the Bank of Uganda.

Speaking to the African traders at Kololo on Tuesday 7, May 2024, Museveni instead said URA should sensitize traders on how to use the EFRIS machine or install on their smartphones.

He said: “I think you can learn how to use it. But if you don’t want to use it, they say you can use your smart phone.

You don’t have to buy an EFRIS machine of 6 million shillings. What is the cost of a smartphone? You can use a smart phone and buy a printer of 150, 000 shillings to attach to it.

Therefore, I direct URA not to insist on EFRIS machine. The ones who can buy it let them buy, but those who can’t afford it should use alternative means.

There should not be any penalties for not buying an EFRIS machines”.  This prompted some traders to leave the meeting, appearing disappointed.

Although EFRIS is not a tax, some traders have described it as double taxation, hence calling on government to suspend it.

They thought the President would side with them. Instead, the President continued: “Value Added Tax (VAT) does not directly impact traders, so it shouldn’t be opposed, as the costs are met by the end consumer.

You talked about VAT. I have studied it and I don’t see the danger of VAT because of our big aims as a country, and I have shown you that Uganda can stand on its own. I have given you the example of milk, cement, steel bars etc.

You can see where we have been able to stand on our own without importing. Therefore, this tax, which is partly concentrating on the narrow spectrum of imported products should not be opposed.

You would be wrong if you opposed such a tax. It’s true that VAT is paid by the consumers and that is in order because we need taxes to run your country and if it’s too expensive, the buyers will not buy it. If customers are buying, it means the tax is manageable”. 

One conscious trader called Katongole told the President, “Taxes are high. You cannot pay tax genuinely and you stay in business. If you lower the taxes, you will collect much more, and the number of taxpayers will also rise”. 

In response, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni said: “It is not true that there are so many taxes in Uganda.

The policy of the government on taxes is deliberate. We do not tax what builds Uganda. There was tax on export of coffee when we came from the bush. We abolished it.

Show me just one tax on any export.” The President added: “If you import machinery to process things here, you don’t pay any tax. If you import raw materials, you don’t pay tax. There’s what we call intermediate products where you only pay the East African tax of 10%.

If you import pharmaceuticals, initially you don’t pay taxes, but in future when we start making our own drugs, we shall have to protect our local manufacturers by imposing taxes even on pharmaceuticals”

The President went on to emphasize the significance of tax compliance, stating that the traders’ concern was not whether they should pay tax, but rather when they should pay it”.

One tax consultant, Alex Asiimwe, cited by the Daily Monitor of 7 May 2024 had warned: “If the President maintains EFRIS and VAT at all levels, the prices of the end products would increase and it would affect the common man in the villages”.

The President maintained both, since he did not agree with any of the submissions of the African traders.

Since the URA started to enforce EFRIS, the local manufacturers have been distributing their manufactures to retailers in the countryside, which wholesale traders are agreed violates the Competition Act, 2023. Consumers are already burdened.

The cardinal question now is: What next for the local consumers and the African traders, if both EFRIS are maintained?

How will they make the President perceive those high taxes and/or multiple taxes are oppressing both th traders and the consumers?

Since the traders are part of the socioeconomic and sociopolitical fabrics of the country, can they initiate a sociopolitical revolution and integrate the consumers in it?

My view is that they are so individualised, disunited and impoverished that they cannot have sociopolitical impact on the country in terms of leading a revolution to cause government to realise that they and the citizenry are being oppressed through taxation.

Besides the whole Ugandan society is so severally divided, bantustanised into meaningless units and impoverished that they cannot agree to agree on a joint course of action.

The political and military elite have disempowered all of them by disuniting and impoverishing them. A divine intervention will be necessary to create a new socio-political environment for change.

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