Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has insisted on taxing religious material imported into the country, the privately-owned Daily Monitor reported on Tuesday.
The move has been met by resistance from the two main religious groups in the country – Christians and Muslims. It follows a plan by government months back, to tax social media.
An umbrella body for religious groups, the inter-Religious Council of Uganda said even if taxes were to be imposed, the current 18% Value Added Tax (VAT) on such materials was ‘erroneous.’
“These items are not meant for profit; so, it is erroneous to tax them. Prayer books are supposed to strengthen the spiritual nourishment of individuals,” Joshua Kitakule, Secretary-General of the Council said.
Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) boss, Doris Akol, is on record to have said the failure to tax the religious materials over the years was an ‘anomaly,’ and they were working to fix it with the latest move.
“We understand that Value-Added Tax (VAT) has in the past not been paid on the said Bibles, prayer books and hymn books. This was an anomaly,” she wrote in an April 19 letter to the Anglican Church’s request for tax exemption on a consignment.
The Church of Uganda (CoU) had to settle an 8.9 million shilling tax to be able to clear a consignment of over 9,000 prayer and hymn books imported from Nairobi, Kenya.
According to the Daily Monitor, nine out of every 10 Ugandans are either Christians or Muslims. Hence the proposed tax would eventually affect the prices of these religious materials. Whiles the government could raise substantial revenues from taxes on religious materials.
Mr Ramathan Mugalu, the secretary general of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, is quoted as calling on President Museveni to enforce a directive he made that all imported prayer materials that are not for sale should not be taxed.
“This government has gone too far in its collection of taxes. How can you tax the word of God? It should instead come in to assist in publishing these materials,” Mr Mugalu bemoaned.
A ministry of finance spokesperson, however, defends the move stressing that it was part of efforts to widen the country’s tax base.
“It is not uncommon for URA to bring to the fold persons, items and entities within tax base. It is its mandate to implement tax collection, URA is not a monster; it is their mandate to engage with the affected entities,” Jim Mugunga said.