Wakiso. The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has protested a ‘special tax’ which Kasanje Town Council in Wakiso District has levied against every tourist visiting Mabamba Wetland Bay for bird watching.
Recently, the town council leaders introduced a fee of $15 (Shs57,405) for each tourist visiting the wetland, which tour guides say is exorbitantly high. A boat operator also charges $26 (Shs100, 000) to transport tourists to the wetland.
The tax, according the authorities, is aimed at enabling the newly created Town Council to raise revenue.
UTB deputy Chief Executive Officer John Ssempebwa explained that they will push for the scrapping of the tax, insisting it is uncalled for.
“As the Uganda Tourism Board, 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?” Mr Ssempebwa said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
According to the Mabamba Wetland Eco-Tourism Association, the tax was introduced without consulting the stakeholders.
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.
The swamp is one of the places where the highest number of endangered birds has been recorded in one day and over a relatively small area.
Mr Ssempebwa said the new tax may discourage tourists from visiting Mabamba.
“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, Mr Joseph Ssemujju, the town council chairperson, said 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 also added that since Mabamba Wetland Bay is a gazzetted 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 that site so that we get money to enable us clean it and attract more tourists,’’ he added. According to Mr Vincent Muyambi, a tour guide and vice chairperson Mabamba Village, they are opposed to 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.