One surprising tale about Uganda lately is its addition of a social media tax or levy to its citizens. At first glance, it seems as though Uganda will be taxing the use of social media within its territory – although the government said this isn’t in any way their way of infringing on the freedom of privacy and expression of its citizens. So what is it, then?
It appears the Ugandan government has succumbed to public pressure as it retracted its decision on a social media tax. Now the government wants telecommunications companies to embed social media tax in its data transactions instead of the current trajectory of charging it directly to consumers.
It can be remembered that since current legislation has passed, telecommunications companies have blocked citizens’ access to social media, and now require users to pay taxes worth as much as 200shs in order to access platforms.
Moreover, according to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), the new implementation of the tax related to paying for social media will need to be reviewed. This is because according to the country’s Excise Duty Law, the tax should be incorporated in the final price andindirect.
URA’s Ian Rumanyika, who handles Public and Corporate Affairs, explained that telecommunications companies should be able to benchmark the social media tax so consumers don’t feel the burden of the taxes as much.
It can be remembered that citizens have reacted in uproar since the implementation of the new social media tax. It’s become increasingly unpopular among users of smartphones, who say that tax stifles free speech and unfair.
Interestingly, it appears this is about to change as senior government officials may have had a strategy meeting in order to find better ways of streamlining the payment for social media tax.
It can be remembered that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni defended the existence of the tax, saying it’s a “waste of money” that’s given to foreign firms. He added social media users are just “donating” hard-earned finances to foreign telephone companies.
The entire Ugandan social media tax debacle has garnered the interest of consumers and users not just in the country but worldwide as well, especially individuals that want to support free speech.
Museveni himself tried to clarify the new daily tax plan by publishing a statement he’s posted on his personal blog, which specified the tax is also a way to improve Uganda’s tax to GDP ratio which is currently at 12-percent.
Some cabinet ministers are also trying their best to explain to mainstream and social media just what makes the tariff a legitimate move which, if recent events are to show, aren’t impressing Ugandans at all. In fact, four (4) Parliament members are actually pushing to have the parliament – currently on recess – to be recalled to discuss these matters.
The 200 shs (Ugandan shillings) payment is around $0.05 when converted. This is a daily charge in order for users to get access to services such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Not paying this upfront will currently block your access to the applications.
A lot of people had negative reactions to the decision to add tax to social media because of arguments such as restricting freedom of expression, affordable connectivity, and net neutrality. Some arguments are against punitive or double taxation and taxing users instead of social media companies. Of course, the most obvious argument is that the taxes are being resisted because it can be seen as an obvious way to reduce online expression.
It can be remembered that Uganda had a history of amending or creating laws to “restrict” the kind of content Ugandan citizens can consume or publish online. In fact, it even created a Computer Emergency Response Team in its communications commission, and even tried to procure a porn detecting machine with its National Pornography Control Committee.
Moreover, every citizen was actually required to “register” with a government network with their national ID and phone number – which means all phones are now linked to various personal details of owners such as family, residence, and birth details.
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