Uganda social media tax criticised


Uganda imposed a levy on social media access it says will fund public services but has been widely resisted as oppressive and aimed at curbing government criticism.

Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Skype, Google Hangouts, yahoo Messenger are among many brands accessed via telecoms networks covered by the 1.51 Pound($0.0517) per user per day tax to access over the top (OTT) services.

Deputy government spokesman Shaban Bantariza told Reuters the new levy took effect at midnight on Saturday and said it was an appropriate source of much needed revenue.

Uganda has about 23.6 million mobile phone subscribers, 17 million of who use the internet, the state-run Uganda Communications Commission says.

Biting government criticism on Facebook has in the past attracted the ire of officials and some critics were charged over posts.

Amnesty International called on Uganda to scrap the tax, saying it robbed “many people of their right to freedom of expression, with a chilling effect on other human rights”.
“This is a clear attempt to silence dissent, in the guise of raising government revenues,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Telecom firms announced last week ahead of the levy’s introduction on July 1 they would block all social media sites and only grant access on a subscriber paying. Payment is done via telecom firms’ mobile money cash financial service.

Ugandans expressed anger in local media with some saying the tax curtailed their right to access information while others argued it amounted to double taxation because data is already taxed.

The opposition and other critics say the government of President Yoweri Museveni (73) is failing to stem corruption and imposing new taxes to fund wasteful public spending.
“We already pay tax when we buy airtime and data,” Ingrid Turinawe, a senior official in the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party told Reuters, adding the tax was aimed at preventing people from accessing information about Museveni’s government.

Uganda’s largest telecom operator, a unit of South Africa’s MTN Group, did not respond to request for comment.