Close doors to Uganda Market

Trade can be a very powerful tool for poverty eradication, creation of employment and to promote sustainable development. However, we have noted the meagre budget allocation to the Tourism, Trade and Industry of Ushs 52.56 billion in FY 2014/15.

Therefore, Government should increase the budget allocation to the sector in order to address issues of value addition, manufacturing, improvements of standards of goods, and to promote the critical backward and forward linkages between agriculture, value addition and trade.

Uganda Civil Society Organisations’ statement on the 2014/2015 budget

I find it curious that the civil society organisations (CSOs) did not specifically adduce the problem as being Uganda’s fiscal policies which favour imports into Uganda over Ugandan made products. Uganda spends on imports nearly twice as much as the value of its exports. Leaving us with a huge trade deficit.

Uganda has prematurely opened its borders and markets, so wide, to unregulated market capitalism to the detriment of Ugandan entrepreneurs. For example, can you imagine a scenario in which a university of the so-called ‘developed’ countries derives the bulk of its equipment and materials from Uganda? Not a chance.

And yet, this is the norm in Uganda. Recently, at a workshop organized by one of our leading universities, other than among the participants, I was hard pressed to find anything else at the workshop that was made in Uganda. The public address system, furniture, file folders, pens, note books, clothes that we wore, synthetic hair, name tags, you name it, were all imported.

Wait a minute, may be the mineral water that we drank, but then again, aren’t the minerals used to purify the water imported? Even at lunch time, the tomato sauce on the menu was imported.

Ugandans innovate but our innovations do not receive the requisite support in-country? There are many innovators in Uganda whose products are of high quality, but the Government of Uganda (GOU) has not done enough to protect and to nurture our economy to maturity.

Such as provide the relevant infrastructure that would ensure the reduction of our  production and transportation costs. It is not uncommon for us to experience day-long electricity power cuts – load shedding, which sometimes occurs without warning. This forces, our manufactures, for example,  to use generators, a more expensive source of energy.

That is why, for example, imported tomato ketchup is priced cheaper than the Ugandan made one, and yet the tomato ketchup made by Reco Industries, for example, is far superior in nutrition and taste than all the imported ones.

The GOU favours foreigners in form of open access to the Ugandan market, while it has not done enough to protect the internal market share for its domestically made products. In a bid to attract the so-called foreign ‘investors’ they are given very lucrative tax incentives. Perhaps, this is a reason why Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has pegged tax charges to the dollar, to simplify for the foreigners, irrespective of hurting indigenous companies.

Similarly, in defense of Uganda’s contract biding that is skewed in favour of foreigners, a government official was reported as having said that local firms are “ignorant” about making competitive bids and that they cannot raise the minimum two percent of the tender deposit required in advance as surety.

Why are we, the citizens, who live so close to the origin of the bid, ignorant of it and how best to win it? Is it not the case that the bidding process is stacked against us? So, for example, with all of our trained engineers, some of whose training was funded by our taxes, we take huge loans to bring in foreigners to build roads for us.

Is it not the role of GOU to ensure that we are not ignorant? And why is our government not giving us preferential treatment in the bidding process? Ironically, none of the so-called ‘developed’ economies attained mature economies whilst their borders and markets were wide open.

In fact, even when their economies have attained maturity, they continue to maintain protection walls around them, in form of tariffs, quotas, subsidies, immigration work permit restrictions, and more.

Ugandan businesses and products should be competitive within Uganda first. It does not make sense for Uganda, a country that has two or sometimes three seasons in which we can grow food to import fresh fruits and vegetables. Even worse, that we import tinned vegetables, tinned fruits and processed food items such as coffee, tea, tomato ketchup which we grow and can be processed in country.

It also does not make sense to me that we are importing and reducing taxes on food supplements, while home grown products such as those that we grow at Alinga Farms are taxed heavily. We sun-dried our products and packaged them at international standards, fit to be sold at major supermarkets. And so URA is applying a value addition tax on our products?

The problem is not in the budget allocation to tourism, trade and industry, it is in Uganda’s entire fiscal policy. Our trade policies simply need to be revised in favour of Ugandans. Like other nations do for their citizens.

By Comrade Norah Owaraga

1 thought on “Close doors to Uganda Market”

  1. URA objective is Tax growth even if it means milking a starving and mulnourished cow(ugandans). For Government its spending aimlessly and blindly. Govt is the first to cry when URA fails to meet its targets but i want to profesy that the cow is soon dieng and there will be no more milk increament for the greedy thieves in govt. By the time you begin taxing hand hoes, bank deposit charges, interest on loans, parafin then know that times are near end. Uganda openned to wide to every tom and dick baptised as an Investor. There is one korean investor cultivating sim sim in bukwo and kapchorwa. This is an insult to us farmers. You import goods worthy 500million dollars from china yet our exports tantamount to 50million dollars. This is another stupidity on our side. How in hell do we import tourches, clothes bulbs sockets from china? You get a tractor transporting Gabbage about 4 wheelbarrow fulls yet it could open up 10 acreas on that fuel.

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