UGANDA, Mbarara | Real Muloodi News | Earlier this year, RippleNami Uganda partnered with Local Government and local political leaders on a campaign to improve the state of services in Mbarara City.
The joint campaign, titled “Services & Fair Tax for Property Owners” spanned March through June 2022. The initiative was conducted with the support of USAID in Uganda, as part of the Domestic Revenue Mobilization for Development (DRM4D) Activity.
Samuel Tayebwa, the Mbarara City revenue officer, explains the joint initiative focused on strengthening dialogue and engagement between the property owners of Mbarara City and the City Administration, with a view to increasing transparency and understanding related to the property valuation process, to the revenue collection process, and how revenues are spent in the local community.
Property rates (commonly referred to as property tax) are a priority area for cities like Mbarara to raise the revenues necessary to provide much-needed services such as sanitation, street lighting, health, and education.
Mbarara City’s revenue collection projections for the financial year 2021/2022 were targeted at 4.7 Billion Shillings. However, by the end of the second quarter, only 1.3 Billion Shillings were realised.
In an effort to boost these numbers this financial year, Mbarara embarked on an initiative that began in January, to map and update the City’s property valuation registers for the purposes of levying property rates.
Richard Mugisha, the Mbarara City Deputy City Clerk, says that after the evaluation exercise is complete, at least USh5 billion is expected from the local revenue collection.
However, the compliance of property owners to pay their tax obligations is a big part of this equation, which is perhaps the biggest challenge for city authorities.
According to DRM4D, low compliance in payment of property rates tax is partly attributable to low access to taxpayer awareness information linking tax payment to service delivery.
To address this issue, Mbarara City leadership engaged property taxpayers through the “Services & Fair Tax for Property Owners” campaign, to involve them in discussions about in how revenues are allocated to services.
“We went to the community and asked people about property rates, we asked them about what they would wish the property rates would do for them, and about the challenges they have in accessing government services,” says Tayebwa.
“The feedback we got back is being collated into a report that will form what we would call a citizens’ services wish list, or service demands” Tayebwa explains.
Tayebwa says that Mbarara City, just like any other jurisdiction, is duty-bound to make service delivery plans based on its citizens’ wish lists.
“Most of the local governments never make research to come up with such wish lists. However, once plans are made based on the wish list, this translates directly into acceptability of the revenue source known as property rates, which helps to increase the revenue” he says.
Tayebwa goes on to explain that the most important part of the activity will be following through on the citizen’s demands.
“Once the wish list is attended to and the services are provided, most people can then see the direct link between the rates and these services, and they start viewing property rates as necessary,” he explains.
Over the three months, the “Services & Fair Tax for Property Owners” campaign engaged 746 stakeholders from 187 villages in Mbarara City to identify the challenges residents face in accessing and utilizing local government services, as well as the challenges local leaders face related to property tax revenue administration.
Property owners were then interviewed, with one of the survey questions asking owners to select the top three services that local government can provide that are most important to him/her.
The campaign further held a series of smaller community focus groups on the topic of Services and Fair Taxes, leading up to a major Civic Engagement Event held on the 23rd of May at the Acacia Hotel in Mbarara City.
The 65 stakeholders in attendance at the Civic Engagement Event were given the opportunity to voice their grievances and seek clarity on a range of issues, including the perception of double taxation, perceived unfair revenue collections practices, and perceptions around local services.
Tayebwa says that after the event, there was better acceptability of the property valuation teams in the field.
“At first, there was resistance experienced in the villages that were valued first. There was refusal from LC1 officials in the villages to participate, and refusal from property owners to allow the valuers into their properties. But after the event, there was better cooperation from both property owners and LC officials,” says Tayebwa.
Mbarara officials have since also noted an increase in the number of people approaching city offices to find out whether the draft valuation lists were out yet.
Tayebwa says, “This is a good sign. People are eager to check their property rates obligations, even before the draft valuation list is out. Unlike the previous valuation which took place around 2014/2015 where the display exercise where very few people responded, and it had to be extended for another 30 days, and still less than 100 petitions came through.”
Tayebwa explains that a lack of objections is not necessarily a good thing.
“It’s not always a good sign when petitions don’t come through. When petitions come through, it is an opportunity to explain to people, and then they withdraw the petitions,” he says.
Tayebwa says that as a result of the event, Mbarara City Officials were invited to be hosted on two radio stations, Radio Maria and Radio West, to talk about property rates valuations, as requested by the audience.
“When people start requesting for this information, it means the information flow has infiltrated the audiences, then they ask the radio stations to host people who can answer some of these questions that they have,” says Tayebwa.
The feedback from the various community stakeholder engagements is currently being collated into a report, the findings of which will be presented to the Mbarara Local Council, who will use these preferences when deciding spending allocations.
In addition to Mbarara, Hoima and Fort Portal will also be conducting similar campaigns in their respective cities, facilitated by RippleNami Uganda.
Hussein Sekinalya, Director of Client Relations at RippleNami Uganda, says “All property owners and residents deserve to be engaged and involved in service utilisation decisions within their community, and to be able to advocate in increased spending, particularly in the areas of health, education and agriculture.”
Sekinalya says Hoima City is next-in-line, and recruitment of a Community Liaison Officer to facilitate the engagements with stakeholders is currently underway.
RippleNami Uganda is extending the campaign reach digitally to Uganda’s 9 other new cities, through Real Muloodi News Network.
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