11 July 2018

Uganda: Anti-Social Media Tax MPs Optimistic As House Convenes

Kampala — A section of lawmakers opposed to the new tax regime on mobile money and social media are optimistic that the House will discuss and address their concerns today.

The group wants Parliament to overturn its decision on the one percent tax on mobile money transactions and the daily Shs 200 levy on social media.

On the agenda for this afternoon's sitting, the matter is not included.

The House has been recalled to constitute its sectoral committees and to receive a list of new accounting officers, according to a circular issued by Ms Jane Kibirige, the Clerk to Parliament.

However, Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga who heads the group that has been soliciting signatures to have the House recalled, says the development is a blessing and will use the same opportunity to protest the new taxes.

"The agenda can be changed just like any other meeting. We are still discussing with the speaker to see that our concerns can be captured," he said.

Mr Karuhanga added that, "in any case, we can raise the issue as an urgent matter of national importance."

From the conduct of Parliament, once an issue is raised to that effect, it only attracts a quick response from the line minister and does not call for debate.

The MPs in their pursuit, wanted to have the House recalled, to debate the infamous tax laws that have been rejected by most Ugandans.

Mr Karuhanga, could not give a clear update on the signatures that have been solicited for the last two weeks.

"I can only give you an update after I have spoken to my colleagues who have other lists," he said.

Meanwhile, Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi and police have this morning been involved in a cat-and mouse chase after the former tried to hold a peaceful demonstration against the new social media and mobile money taxes. Bobi Wine as he's popularly known, ran and entered Parliament to escape police arrest.

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On July 11, 2018, communications regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) blocked access to social media including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, as well as dating sites Tinder and Grindr, unless users pay a Shs200 ($0.05, 0.04 euro) daily tax.

The outcry was immediate.

"I was in a village on Sunday when the tax started and people were outraged," said Siraje Nsambu, a spokesman for the Tabliq Muslim sect.

"Even a poor boy will [now have to] strive hard to buy a Chinese mobile phone and get online." he said.

Mobile internet users now have to input a telephone code to pay the tax before they are able to access most social media sites, although implementation has proved patchy with some blocked services still available.

Some have turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to disguise their location and avoid the levy, a trick learned during elections two years ago when the government tried to shut down social media.

State Minister for Finance David Bahati then said the tax will help pay for "the development of the country" and ordered the communications regulator to stop Ugandans using VPNs, though it is unclear how this directive can be carried out.

President Yoweri Museveni, an avid Twitter user with 855,000 followers, urged the imposition of the tax earlier this year, to put an end to "gossip".

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