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Tax dispute resolution is a central component of the effective operation of any modern tax system. So, in 1997, Uganda established the Tax Appeals Tribunal (TAT) to provide taxpayers with access to an independent and impartial tax dispute resolution process. Its founders intended for the tribunal to improve voluntary tax compliance, ensure that everyone is treated equally under the law, and prevent a high amount of taxes from being held up in disputes. 


The implementation of the tribunal has run into several challenges that have inhibited its effectiveness. An estimated 1.1 trillion Ugandan shillings (UGX) ($297 million), an amount greater than the national budget allocation to the country’s agriculture sector, was held in dispute in 2017. Our recent study reveals that tax disputes have been resolved rather slowly, resulting in a backlog of outstanding disputes (Table 1). For instance, out of an average of 36 cases lodged from 2008 to 2016, only six disputes, worth UGX 2.3 billion ($621,621), were finalized within a year of filing.

Indeed, until a 2017 Supreme Court ruling reinforcing the TAT’s authority, disputing taxpayers were circumventing the tribunal and going directly to the High Court, where appeals ultimately go anyway, where there is no requirement for paying the 30 percent of the tax assessed (discussed below) in order to ask for a review, and where damages can get rewarded (they cannot at the TAT).

Several factors contribute to the high number of incomplete tax disputes, including a lack of performance targets (for example, a minimum number of cases to be finalized within a particular time) for the tribunal members, limited staffing, and the rigid requirement that a TAT ruling must be made by a member equivalent to a High Court judge. This restriction essentially requires the presence of the TAT chairperson for each and every hearing for a ruling to be made. This complication does not exist in other African countries like Kenya and Rwanda where any three members of the tax court can at any one time constitute the court for purposes of hearing a dispute. The requirement in Uganda not only delays dispute resolutions but could also lead to potential biases in decisions according to those familiar with the process.

Table 1: Tax dispute applications finalized by TAT


The value-added tax (45 percent) contributed almost half of all disputes in Uganda from 2008- 2016 (Figure 1). It was closely followed by income tax (29 percent) and customs tax (12 percent). The large share of both VAT- and income tax-related disputes is attributed to the granting of ad hoc tax exemptions, as well as continuous yearly adjustments of both VAT and income tax by the government to close revenue leakages and increase revenue scope. These acts are also too broad, which causes undue complexity and disputes.


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Blog by Brian Sserunjogi and Corti Paul Lakuma and published in the Brookings' Africa in Focus segment on May 15, 2019.