Kasanje Town Council in Wakiso District levied a ‘special tax’ against every tourist visiting Mabamba Wetland Bay for bird watching which the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has protested.
The town council leaders recently introduced a fee of $15 (Shs57, 405) for each tourist visiting the Mabamba wetland, which tour guides say is unreasonably high. A boat operator also charges $26 (Shs100, 000) to transport tourists to the wetland.
According the authorities, the tax is aimed at enabling to raise revenue for the newly created Town Council. UTB deputy Chief Executive Officer John Ssempebwa explained that they will push for the scrapping of the tax, insisting it is uncalled for.
During a telephone interview on Wednesday, Mr. Ssempebwa said “As UTB, we have not been made aware that tourists are charged money and we need to first investigate and technically know what that tax is paid for? Is it environment fee?”
The tax was introduced without consulting the stakeholders, according to the Mabamba Wetland Eco-Tourism Association. Mabamba swamp is located west of Entebbe Town on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, covering 2,424 hectares with thick marshes of papyrus, water lilies and other wetland grasses.
This swamp is one of the places with the highest number of endangered birds recorded in one day and over a relatively small area.
Mr Ssempebwa also said that the new tax may discourage tourists from visiting Mabamba wetland. “It seems those people (Kasanje Town Council authorities) are undoing what we are trying to build. They need to be called to order” he added.
However, the town council chairperson Mr Joseph Ssemujju, said that they have since sat with the tenderer and directed him to reduce the fee to Shs25, 000 per tourist. “At first, tourists visiting Mabamba were not paying money but when we inquired from other people, they told us that in national game parks, tourists are charged money. So, we have discussed with the tenderer and asked him to reduce the fee and some tourists I have talked to are okay with that fee,’’ Mr Ssemujju said.
He added that since Mabamba Wetland Bay is a gazetted tourism site known for bird watching, the revenue generated is used for keeping the place clean.
The town council chairperson declined to reveal how much money they plan to generate from the tax. “Kasanje is now a town council mandated and responsible for its own taxes and revenue. We tendered the site so that we get money to enable us clean it and attract more tourists,’’ he added.
Now, according to Mr. Vincent Muyambi, a tour guide and vice chairperson in Mabamba Village, opposed the new tax. “Let them [town council authorities] revert to the old system where they used to charge only boat operators; why are they burdening tourists yet they pay a lot of money when they sleep in our hotels?” He said.