I have absolutely nothing against paying my taxes. Sure, I might not like the fact that I pay thirty percent income tax but at least I can see where my money goes. It goes straight to our silky smooth roads, affordable healthcare and free primary school education. My thirty percent pays the wages of the policemen and women who stand all day in the burning sun making sure I can go about business without a thought. It goes to our military and the civil service. Say what you will about the various issues that Rwanda deals with, but the fact that this government is efficient is something that everyone takes for granted. Taxes are the lifeblood of the state and I believe that anyone not willing to pay their taxes are the worst kind of citizen, selfish and irresponsible. Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) has a sacred duty to do all it can to increase the state coffers and they have done quite well; last year, they collected 491 billion francs in taxes and they expect to do even better this year. That’s great; just as long as they don’t act illegally to do so.
And truth be told, it’s my opinion that the ongoing clampdown on foreign registered vehicles might not fall within the parameters of the law in each and every case. Talking to the New Times, the Director of Taxpayer Services at RRA, Gerard Nkusi Mukubu, said that an operation, being undertaken with the Traffic Police, is targeting foreign-registered vehicles belonging to Rwandans, who ‘claim’ to be foreigners.“We know some nationals who acquire permission (to drive foreign-registered cars) under the guise of being foreigners. This is illegal and will not be tolerated; only non-Rwandans are allowed to do so”, he said.
I can understand why the issue of this type of tax evasion galls the RRA so much. A local car importer, Sam Ruterana, says that the price of a vehicle in Rwanda is more than three times the price of a similar model in Uganda. “I bought a Toyota Ipsum from Uganda, last year, at about Rwf1.5 million, after taxes. The same car here was priced at Rwf5 million with taxes”. So, when someone refuses to register a vehicle in Rwanda, millions are being lost. And the RRA has every right and responsibility to run after those tax evaders.
If this was Uganda, where dual nationality isnt accepted, this crackdown would be easy. However, in Rwanda Article 7 of the Constitution states that “dual nationality is permitted” and that “no person shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality”. I was born in Uganda and am therefore a Ugandan citizen, with all the rights of Ugandan citizenship. These rights include the right to Ugandan documents such as driving permits and vehicle registration. I am Rwandan as well, with all the rights of Rwandan citizenship as well, including the right to residency here. And I sure that there are thousands of Rwandans just like me, who have Ugandan and Rwandan nationality. Throw in those with Burundian, Kenyan, Tanzanian and Congolese citizenship and you have tens of thousands of people. None of them are ‘claiming’ to be foreigners, they are. Rwandan citizenship isnt forced on anyone; it is a right, not a burden. RRA doesn’t have the right to force a foreign citizen to register a car in the country, especially when they have followed the law to the letter.
Michel Karangwa’s story mustn’t be repeated. His wife’s car was impounded even though she lived in Uganda and the 14-day pass was still valid. That is a totally illegal seizure of someone’s private property and I sincerely hope that RRA and the Traffic Police apologies to the Karangwa family.
Instead of acting outside the parameters of our law, maybe reduce the tax on cars. That way, people will able to afford locally registered cars in the first place. While RRA might lose the amount of tax on a single car, it will be able to tax a lot of cars coming into the country and being registered here.