Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Social Media Tax Comes Into Effect in Uganda Amidst Concerns 
KAMPALA. — A tax on the use of social media in Uganda has come into effect with many users complaining that it is costly and will also limit their freedoms.

Telecommunication companies on July 1 started enforcing the excise duty charge on Over-The-Top services dubbed “social media tax”.

The tax affects social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Skype, Google Hangouts, Yahoo! Messenger, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Viber among others.

For one to access the platforms, they have to pay a daily fee of 200 shillings ($0.05).

Government argued that the move is aimed at raising domestic revenue instead of depending on the increasing cost of foreign financing.

Frank Tumwebaze, minister of information, communication and technology, described the fee as a “small tax” that will contribute to national development.

The coming into effect of the tax has however caused concerns with some describing it as an unfair tax since they pay many other taxes to government.

Daraus Bahikire, a Uganda’s social media activist, told Xinhua that while it is an obligation to pay the tax, the government must also ensure that the revenue collected is not embezzled.

“My concern is on the utilisation of this big tax revenue. What hurts us is to hear billions of money lost in embezzlement, fraud and other forms of revenue misuse,” Bahikire said.

“I urge all Ugandans to be vigilant on the quality of services in their areas and ensure that our money is not misused by selfish human beings,” he added.

Martha Chemutai, a public relations practitioner, argued that as the telecommunication companies enforce the tax, they must also improve on the service they offer. She argued that most times the connectivity is unreliable.

Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, told Xinhua in a recent interview that the tax is unwarranted and unnecessary on tax payers.

“It is a restriction on people’s individual freedom to express themselves and communicate freely since it makes access costly and prohibitive,” said Sewanyana.

“It is a double tax since we pay for airtime. Such a tax should be rejected,” noting that the law on social media taxation would be subjected to litigation to determine its constitutionality,” he said.

Some social media users have resorted to installing Virtual Private Networks (VPN) applications in a bid to evade the tax. People with VPN unblocked their social media sites without paying the tax.

Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of Uganda Communications Commission, the state regulator of telecommunications companies, said government has all the technology to block the VPN services.

MTN, one of the telecommunication companies in a statement on its website, said operators will block access to VPNs that are used to evade the social media tax.

A Reuters report says Amnesty International has called on Uganda to scap the tax, saying it robbed “many people of their right to freedom of expression, with a chilling effect on other human rights”.

“This is a clear attempt to silence dissent, in the guise of raising government revenues,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Uganda has about 23.6 million mobile phone subscribers, 17 million of whom use the Internet, the state-run Uganda Communications Commission says.

– Xinhua/Reuters/HR

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