Kampala 16th August 2016; the Unwanted Witness Uganda and the Digital Empowerment Initiative for Eastern Africa want government to focus on connecting all Ugandans onto the Internet before levying tax on data, which move would further limit the already struggling internet coverage and speed in the country.
On 11th August 2016 the Tax body, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) proposed tax on data, urging that the proposed tax would supplement on the existing tax on voice calls, which has registered serious decline lately.
Currently Uganda’s Internet penetration is the slowest in the region standing at 19% with users totaling to 7.6 million out of 40.3 million total populations. Therefore, imposing a tax on the struggling Internet does not only hinder the Internet freedoms, ICT growth and coverage but contradicts with government’s vision 2040 which focuses on ICT as an engine for development.
Uganda is running on maximum Internet speed at 2.4Mbps downloads and 2.2Mbps uploads compared to Kenya, which is running on 1.6Gbps band width among other countries in the region.
“We are opposed to the tax proposal on data because it‘s going to be a burden to Ugandans already using the Internet due to its lowest speed. Our Internet is one of the slowest in the region which means that citizens who use Internet do not get value for money because its either on and off or it takes many hours downloading or opening a file” Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Executive Officer Unwanted Witness said.
He added that for any user to have a steady Internet, one has to invest in a lot of money, which is hard to be afforded by an ordinary Ugandan.
Uganda is charging 12 per cent excise duty on each voice call, and 5 per cent on fixed lines. However even other Internet hardware including laptops, Internet routers, desktop computers and mobile phones are levied 24% tax by URA.
The Unwanted Witness and Digital Empowerment Initiative for Eastern Africa understand that majority Internet users in Uganda do access Internet via mobile gadgets whose users buy airtime, which is taxed and before being converted into data.
We are similarly concerned that the proposed new tax on Internet will further widen the urban and rural digital divide and would make Internet less affordable to vulnerable groups like women, children, people with disabilities and youths and yet it would be a driver to transform their lives.
Unwanted Witness Uganda and Digital Empowerment for Eastern Africa therefore recommend the following;
(i) Government should stay the proposed tax and instead work with service providers to expand Internet connection to different parts of the country for the realization of the middle-income status.
(ii) Harmonize the tax to avoid double taxation since airtime and other ICT devices are already being taxed by government
(iii) Government should make Internet access affordable to all Ugandans including women, children, People with Disabilities, youths among others.