Uganda Considers Taxing Some Facebook and WhatsApp Users

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Parliament says levy proposed of 100 shillings per day
Campaigners urge clarity on what the African nation will tax

Uganda’s government is proposing a tax of 100 shillings ($0.03) per day for at least some users of social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp, parliament said, amid criticism from press freedom campaigners.

The levy would apply to users of services “including WhatsApp platforms and Facebook video calls,” the Kampala-based national assembly, which still needs to approve any plan, said on its website.

President Yoweri Museveni told the Finance Ministry in March that taxes on social media could garner 400 billion to 1.4 trillion shillings per year, the local Daily Monitor newspaper reported. There’s been no explanation of how use would be monitored and charges levied and paid.

The government of East Africa’s third-biggest economy is seeking extra revenue as it struggles to reach its 2020 target of middle-income status, which needs per capita income of between $1,045 and $12,736. A delay in starting oil production in western Uganda is affecting the government’s economic targets, the planning authority said in February.

Information and Communications Technology Minister Frank Tumwebaze was cited by the state-owned New Vision newspaper on April 10 as saying the proposal is for a levy on “value added services” such as Skype and WhatsApp calls. Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission, said Friday by phone that the tax would be on social-media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, without giving further details.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which criticized Ugandan authorities for blocking social media during the country’s disputed 2016 elections, said on April 5 that the proposed taxes “have the potential to curtail freedom of expression and access to information.” It later said there had been mixed messages from authorities and Museveni should clarify whether Ugandan social-media users would be taxed.

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Godwin Okafor is a Financial Journalist, Internet Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Naija247news Media Limited. He has over 16 years experience in financial journalism. His experience cuts across traditional and digital media. He started his journalism career at Business Day, Nigeria and founded Naija247news Media in 2010. Godwin holds a Bachelors degree in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos. He is an alumni of Lagos Business School and a Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists). Over the years, he has won a number of journalism awards. Godwin is the chairman of Emmerich Resources Limited, the publisher of Naija247news.

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