Uproar as social media tax takes effect in Uganda

Uproar as social media tax takes effect in Uganda
A number of citizens in Uganda posted on social media that they have defied payment of the social media tax by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) applications.

Ugandans have taken to social media to express their displeasure and defiance over the social media tax that took effect last night.

The Uganda shilling 200 per day Over The Top (OTT) commonly known as social media tax took effect last night at the start of the 2018/2019 financial year.

On Thursday telecom companies notified customers that they would be required to pay 200 shillings per day, 1,400 for a week or 6,000 for a month to access social media lest they would be blocked.

A number of citizens posted on social media that they have defied payment of the tax by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) applications.

VPN enables internet users to use data bought from Uganda telecom companies but hide their Internet Protocol (IP). The IP addresses are distributed geographically and can be used to identify internet users’ location. People with VPN unblocked their social media sites without paying tax.

“I’m not known to evade tax, which is also stolen anyway; but for as long as the G.O.A.T, #VPN, is alive and kicking, I’ll never pay this nonsensical social media tax defiance,” journalist Andrew Mwanguhya tweeted.

“VPN in current circumstances is tax avoidance. We are paying VAT on the bundles. Tax avoidance has never been illegal since time immemorial,” Silver Kayondo, a lawyer tweeted in support of social media tax avoidance using VPN.

Kayondo says he is part of lawyers who will file a petition challenging the tax tomorrow. “We are making final touches on the social media tax Constitutional Petition. We need some more ICT lawyers to bolster the team. We shall also need some ICT experts to swear affidavits on some technical points,” he said.

Kayondo further argued: “If you want to initiate a policy like social media tax at least have some smart people on your team. You can’t regulate or tax what you neither control nor understand! There are a million ways to do it, but Uganda government chose the most ineffective.”

But government officials have equally been using social media platforms to argue in favour of the tax.

In a tweet to a complainant who argued that the social tax would prohibit young doing business online, Information Minister, Frank Tumwebaze compared the shilling 6000 monthly social media to piecemeal pay given to casual labourers on daily basis.

“There is no monthly pay of shs 6000. Even hiring a casual labourer to work in the garden (half day), you pay for that daily labour of 7000 shillings. And such people also pay tax on goods they consume. So if you earning from your online business surely that shs6000 is not prohibitive,” Tumwebaze tweeted.

The Rubanda County MP and Budget Committee Chairperson, Henry Musasizi says people who buy smartphones can afford to pay the tax.

“I don’t agree with the argument that someone who can afford to buy a smartphone can fail to raise an additional 200shs as a daily levy for OTTs. Mind you it’s optional if you have no productive business on Facebook or whatever you can plan your days accordingly and pay less tax.”