One can logically and comfortably say that no public officer, even those in the middle class, can ever dream of buying a car whose date of manufacture is less than 10-15 years.
By Myers Lugemwa
It is almost two months now that I have been trying to cool my head at the North Pole following a suggestion on increasing taxation by some officials from the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development on the importation of vehicles older than eight years.
Cooling, I had to, because I thought the suggestion was not from Ugandans who have lived or worked, or even know the history of how Ugandans strive, through the thin and thick to procure a vehicle of any kind in order not only to overcome challenges related to transport in the country, but also to pride in an asset from their hard earned monies.
I vividly recall that the only time my family bought a marque motor vehicle was in the late 1960’s. And this was a BSA motorcycle 350cc registration ULA 365 by none other than my dad, a 3rd grade magistrate then. He was able to do this because by virtue of his job, he was entitled to a loan from government.
Since at that time we were toddlers, we thought and looked forward to not buying cars after school but new cars for that matter. Unfortunately, times have changed over the years that no professional in Uganda can afford to buy a new car using their salary.
I can even bet my bottom dollar that not even His Excellency, The President can, from his monthly salary of sh3.5m per month buy a simple marque new Toyota Land Cruiser TX in less than 50 months. This is possible without him spending a single penny on even one bottle of Rwenzori mineral water!
Using this simple mental work, one can logically and comfortably say that no public officer, even those in the middle class, can ever dream of buying a car whose date of manufacture is less than 10-15 years. I even can challenge our honorable MPs who were given sh150m almost a year ago was able to buy a brand new MV with that money.
I appreciate the environment and health concerns brought forth by the ministry in this treatise. It is a scientific fact that motor vehicles emit toxic and carcinogenic compounds that are known to cause cancer in humans. Hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides contribute to smog, which damages lung tissues and aggravates respiratory disease. Smog can also inhibit plant growth and damage crops and forests. Motor vehicle pollution also contributes to the formation of acid rain and global warming.
It is also known that roads are a large contributor to nonpoint pollution during the rainy season. In a rainy season, water cannot penetrate the surface of a paved road or parking lot and instead travels along the surface as runoff. After it rains, urban runoff travels over the streets picking up a variety of pollutants.
These pollutants include sediments, heavy metals, oil, grease, debris, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, road salts, and pet wastes. Particulate matter and heavy metals come from exhaust, brake pads, tire and asphalt ware, drips of oil, grease, anti-freeze, hydraulic fluids, and cleaning agents.
Urban runoff negatively impacts the environment by harming aquatic plant and animal life (limiting growth, toxicity, fish kills), degrading water quality, contaminating ground water, and contributing to eutrophication. World Health Organisation has identified particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3) as the commonest culprits in the causation of pollutants with greatest public health importance.
Simple studies conducted here in Uganda (The state of ambient air in Kampala and Jinja) by Bruce Kirenga et.al., demonstrated, by urbanization, that there was only one monitoring site in Jinja where SO2 concentrations reached detectable levels. This site, in an industrial land use area of Jinja, had a higher SO2 concentration level (7.3 μg/m3) than that in the industrial land use area of Kampala (<0.69 μg/m3).
Six other monitoring sites in Kampala also showed SO2 concentrations above detection limit (mean 3.11 μg/m3). Comparing SO2 concentrations by land use, concentrations were highest in industrial land use areas (7.39 μg/m3), followed by commercial land use areas (3.69 μg/m3), then residential land use areas with paved roads (2.79 μg/m3), or unpaved roads (2.39 μg/m3). Implying that residential areas with unpaved roads and industrial areas cause more pollution than what our vehicles on the road do cause.
As a country, we need to appreciate that the environmental pollution mainly is in our homes where use of charcoal and kerosene are widely used. Plastics and buveera burnt in open air contribute a big percentage in polluting the air.
The fact that tree cutting for charcoal is abundantly practiced and with abandon in this country is more disastrous to the future of this country than the eight-year old MVs which are falling victims of circumstances. Imagine the other day charcoal from Uganda’s trees was being ferried to Kenya. My foot! Trees give carbon credit in environmental removal of carbon gases, a major air pollutant.
Uganda imports about 15,000 MVs per annum. Of these, brand new vehicles (about 10%) are procured by government, embassies and NGO’s. Those between 1-4 years, make about 20%, and those between 5-8years, about 30% with the remaining lot (40%) being above eight years. Remember, that no human being would want to marry every old woman or man just like no man would want to buy old car if an opportunity arose! Most cars on the road currently are 2004 model and that is 14 years down the road.
In view of this simple short submission, I would want to believe that the proponents of the increase in taxation on MVs beyond eight years did not bear in mind the fact that buying a car in Uganda is so hard, especially for public servants and other persons who eke a living on monthly stipend. It is also an attempt to overcome lack of the public transport system in the country.
In this regard, therefore, I would wish to opine as follows:
That a law be put in place that all MVs to be imported into the country are inspected and get a pre-shipment inspection certificate before entry.
That SGS be supported to conduct regular inspections of all MVs every one or two years to evaluate the carbon emissions and other gases by the vehicles already in the country.
That the law on plastics and polythene bags needs to be invoked as part of the environment pollution control.
That by-laws on tree planting be revisited as was the case in the past. This will improve on the carbon credits in addressing issues to do with the Ozone layer.
Lastly, increasing the taxes on the 40% or so of MVs older than eight years will not only affect the current monies collected from the said MVs but will get people out of employment and also affect the small hard earned asset that was the pride of an individual that would have wished to buy a marque vehicle.
It ought to be understood that it’s not the age of the vehicle that determines its pollution levels but also the way it is serviced by the owner. We know some vehicles which are almost twenty years on the road but have been well serviced and are better than those less than the eight years that, in my opinion was arbitrarily mooted by the economic gurus.
The writer is a practicing medical doctor