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OTT, mobile money taxes have exposed Parliament

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Added 26th July 2018 06:37 PM

It is unlikely that in imposing such taxes, the projected tax base will actualise.

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It is unlikely that in imposing such taxes, the projected tax base will actualise.

TAX

By Godwin Matsiko Muhwezi

KAMPALA - The debate on the recently introduced taxes on what was dubbed “Over the Top” (OTT) social media services and on mobile money has been extremely interesting.

How a traditionally business application like skype (which is not necessarily a widely used app) would be bundled up with a predominantly social application like WhatsApp is baffling.

It is oversights this trivial that make one wonder how seriously we take the law-making process in this country.

Have we aborted conversations on financial inclusion and the need to reach the millions of unbanked Ugandans in the bid to absorb them into the economic value chain?

While we have no universal coverage of traditional media, should we not have partnered with social media as a cheap tool to scale access to vital information and sensitisation of Ugandans?

The flamboyant benchmarking exercises would have taught us about double taxation, how to keep our taxes less oppressive and how to move towards consensus when people must tweak private spending patterns for the public good.

It is unlikely that in imposing such taxes, the projected tax base will actualise, if people refrain from further consumption of the affected products and that will be a loss for everybody involved.

In making mobile money the only mode of paying for OTT tax, the Government has made an optional service compulsory to the benefit of a few telecoms and contrary to Anti-Trust practices in a free market economy.

This would have been a pettifogging oversight if the existing electronic money actors did not have credibility challenges of their own.

I belabor to raise concerns which could easily have been canvassed by three hundred plus legislators, who if they were paying meticulous attention to the implications of the taxes, would have advised the Ministry of Finance to do more consultations or find less self-defeating interventions to reduce our public debt.

It could be the busyness of the august House with a litany of items on the Order Paper, effects of a moonlighting legislature with minimal devotion to debating and questioning Bills to the decimal; some have argued that the qualifications of our MPs need revision, others have noted that party affiliations take precedence over logical discourse; we could count down fingers, toes and sticks to solve this abacus.

We hoped that the hundreds of presidential advisers would come in handy for such innocuous conversations to stop the Government from passing a tax to punish its citizens for going on about their daily lives?

A commission of inquiry is unnecessary to reveal the ubiquitous bane that these taxes have caused to our society.

Perhaps, there was overwhelming evidence that social media and mobile money are utilised for gossip and nothing more!

How could a tax go through Cabinet, Parliament and Presidential assent, then back to implementation without clear interpretation of its scope and context?

If we are not questioning the effectiveness of our systems, we are only reacting to symptoms of an embedded plight.

The writer is a lawyer and author

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