As charging the newly introduced Over The Top (OTT) tax enters day two, a group of concerned Ugandans have sued the government of Uganda for introducing the tax they term as being “unconstitutional”.
The proposal to introduce tax on social media users was first fronted by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, in his March 12 letter, to the Minister of Finance, Matia Kasaija, as means of increasing government revenue and reducing what the President called Lugambo(gossip). It would later be approved by parliament to start operating in the FY 2018/2019.
However, a team of six Ugandans including NBS TV investigative Journalist, Raymond Mujuni has Monday afternoon petitioned the constitutional court to rule that the tax is unconstitutional and to stop government from levying it.
The group which has sued the Attorney General, communications regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and tax body Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), argue that OTT tax denies many Ugandans who can not afford it access to information through social media and that it infringes on the “economic rights”.
“It makes accessing social media platforms a preserve of only the economically empowered and circumscribes social media use and access,” they argue.
“The tax suffocates internet based or enabled businesses, budding entrepreneurs, job searching, talent promotion,creativity and innovation which is an infringment and contravention of economic rights guaranteed by the constitution,” the petitioners further contend.
Social Media Tax is imposed by section 3(b) and 6(c) of the Excise Duty Act which provides a daily charge of shs200 from individuals, before accessing WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms.
But, the petitioners claim that the new tax limits access to social media and in turn violates the right to freedom of expression, public participation, political mobilisation, peaceful assembly and unarmed demonstration as well as limiting access to information.
Since Sunday July 1 when levying the new tax was effected, many Ugandans have been using social media to mobilise friends and relatives to install Virtual Private Networks (VPN), to skip paying OTT tax which they regard as “double taxation”.
Ibrahim Bossa, the UCC Manager in charge of Consumer Affairs, has already regarded claims of OTT tax limiting internet usage as “false”.
“Bottom-line Internet/Broadband is more than OTT Tax. While internet in Uganda is mainly used for social media, So OTT tax has potential to reduce attractiveness. The possibility that it will hinder access to ICTs is false.Since only OTT is being taxed not the rest of the internet,” Mr Bbosa tweeted on Monday afternoon.
Ugandans and other social media users can pay a daily, weekly or monthly OTT tax of Shs 200, Shs 1,400 and Shs 6,000 respectively depending on their wish.