The largest part of literature reveals that Christmas started somewhere around 336 AD in the Roman Empire and spread worldwide. This is time immemorial!
To date, festive seasons especially Easter Day, Eid days, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and their eves are immensely celebrated by almost everyone with a breath. Parents, friends, and relatives would wish to dine together from their home villages.
With the rampant unemployment and poverty, majority of the youth migrate to urban areas such as Kampala, Masaka, Mbarara, Mbale, Gulu, etc, in search of jobs and better standards of living. During festive seasons, these strive willingly to go back to their villages and celebrate together with their childhood friends and relatives. It doesn’t matter how much money they have mobilized during the course of the year.
The only unfortunate side is the unregulated commodity prices. Hiked prices during festive seasons overwhelm their expenditure. The forces of demand and supply are left to determine the prices.
Obviously, the demand surpasses supply and thus, an increase in prices cannot prevent the road to happiness during the season. Like the word sounds ‘season’, it is just temporary and should not call for exorbitant prices. Prices for foodstuffs such as meat, matooke, rice as well as transport costs and clothing are usually more than doubled.
Remember, it is only to receive this temporary happiness. Life is instead made meaningless and expensive to frugal and rational consumers who wish to maximize utility at lower prices.
To some, it is better to remain in the city centers other than spending like death is knocking in, or as though there will not be any other celebrations or expenses in future. How can you enjoy the festivals when you have to borrow to supplement the available money?
It is amazing that festive seasons may mark the beginning of poverty to some people. Scarcity of money is, to a larger extent, experienced in January every year. Why? The unnecessary expenditure in the festive seasons leaves limited finances to happily start the new year.
The phrase ‘Happy New Year’ carries an opposite connotation and the uncertainty of how it will move till the next festive season. Even low-income earners are not immune to high prices. There is a need for protection and price legislation by the government to prevent the exploitation caused by the unfair prices.
How can government legislate prices during festive seasons?
Through the local government authorities, ministry of Works and Transport, traffic police, and business umbrellas, prices can be regulated prior to the festive seasons. Government should have round table discussions with business umbrellas, traders, commercial drivers’ associations, and marketing unions to prevent tendencies of skyrocketing prices. The legislation should be backed with sensitization of citizens to spend wisely during festive seasons.
Government should offer temporary tax holidays on commodities during festive seasons. Besides the haphazard increments in prices, high taxes partially lead to exorbitant prices during festive seasons. Traders or sellers tend to increase prices to bridge the previously incurred low returns or profit gaps arising from high taxes.
Taxes such as on fuel should be waived off during the festive seasons for about 10 days to have a clear justification for the celebrations and maximizing satisfaction.
Uganda needs a cashless economy where transactions are electronically paid for. Currently, the existing mobile money and electronic bank payments attract high charges. All those should be rescinded to permit low-cost electronic money transfer transactions.
Integrated electronic financial systems ease the tracking of all transactions and any irregularities in prices can be traceable and addressed.
Conclusively, taxes and the unregulated price mechanism distort the true meaning of festive seasons. They instead turn out to be the beginning of poverty, hopelessness, and confusion at the beginning of each new year. A prosperous new year calls for economic freedom punctuated by fair taxes and prices.
The authors are directors and staff at Gateway Research Centre Uganda