The bill attracted so much drama including riots in Kampala city, arrests which later were followed by court sessions.
OTT ends today at 12:00AM and as Ugandans will start accessing Internet services and all other social media sites without paying the Over The Top (OTT) tax or using encrypted connections such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
The government has abolished the Shs200 per day OTT tax and imposed a 12 per cent tax on Internet data in the new financial year, which starts tomorrow
As hours to the end of this direct tax burdens are numbered, Parrots UG looks at some issues,list of MPs who voted against / in favour of the motion; events that will forever remain in the minds of Ugandan Techliners and the world at large.
In May 2018, debate on tax on social media faced stiff resistance from younger MPs like the then Kyadondo East area MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu also known as Bobi Wine, dismissing it as double taxation.
Kyagulanyi was supported by Padyere County’s Joshua Anywarach, and Silas Aogon of Kumi Municipality. They argued that since WhatsApp is accessed through already taxed airtime, another levy would be an infringement on the users’ rights.
Uganda’s then Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP) Winnie Kiiza is well reknown for her great influence on protesting against the controversial social media tax bill.
The controversial bill imposed a mandatory Shs200 daily levy for social media users as introduced by Parliament through the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act 2021.
This was to enable Ugandans to access social media platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram among others.
A number of legislators majority of the opposition were opposed to the bill while their counterparts in the ruling party supported the proposed bill.
Giving his submission on the proposed bill, the now former Bunyole West county MP James Waluswaka made mockeries to MPs opposed to the bill saying that if they did not afford paying taxes they should go and die. He argued taxes would give the country a break from heavy loans and grants.
“If you don’t want to pay taxes go and die. We are tired of these loans and grants,” Hon Waluswaka submitted.
The then state minister for finance and Economic planning, David Bahati who had moved the bill rejected the assertion that government is taxing data or internet to limit human rights to freedom of expression and access to information , saying it was only the service being taxed.
He said with only Shs200 charge per a day, each consistent WhatsApp user will pay only Shs73,000 in one year.
Imposing OTT & Mobile money taxes was according to President Yoweri Museveni meant boost government revenue and to end “gossip” on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.
This however received public backslashes with many activists accusing Museveni regime of stifling dissent voices by making poorer people pay to be online.
In June 2018, parliament sat to decide on the proposed UShs 200 OTT tax and 1% tax levied on all Mobile phone money transactions what came to be known as Mobile money tax.
Of the 288 votes cast, 124 legislators voted for the removal of the tax while 164 voted against it.
The UShs 200 OTT tax then took effect on July 1, 2018 and few days later, the Kyadondo East area MP Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine mobilised 300 aggrieved citizens including journalists like NTV’s Raymond Mujuni, university students to take on protests against the tax.
Police fired live bullets and sprayed teargas in Kampala to disperse protestors but all in vain. The more they dispersed the protestors the more they (police) boosted public morale to oppose the tax.
On that fateful day, three suspects including David Luke, Katongole Julius and Fred Nyanzi Ssentamu were arrested on allegations of holding an illegal assembly.
Police further alleged that during the protest the Divisional Police Commander Kampala Central Police Station, Joseph Bakaleke was assaulted and his handcuffs stolen. These allegations led to the arrest of Bobi Wine’s Bodyguard Edward Ssebuwufu aka Eddie Mutwe on allegations of assault and theft.
On July 13, the Officer in charge criminal investigation at CPS Kampala, Joshua Tusingwire wrote to the speaker of parliament Rt Hon Kadaga summoning Hon Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, whom they (police) accused of holding an illegal assembly.
This then was followed by till date endless court sessions at Buganda Road Court where Kyagulanyi and three others were charged with disobeying statutory duty, a case hearing that has till date flopped.
As the situation worsened, government bowed to pressures and agreed to review the taxes in consideration of public demands.
The then Prime Minister Rt. Hon Ruhakana Rugunda wrote to the speaker of parliament Rt. Hon Rebecca Kadaga (former) informing her about the reviews.
“Government is now reviewing the taxes taking into consideration the concerns of the public and its implications on the budget.
“The president has provided guidance on the matter and encouraged further discussion with a view to reaching consensus on how we should raise the much needed revenue to finance our budget.”
After intensive debates, parliament reviewed the Mobile Money Tax and was reduced from 1% to 0.5% per transactions made staying the controversial OTT tax.
The OTT tax stayed with stiff opposition and a number of Ugandans had now resorted to using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) claiming they cannot pay taxes to an untrusted government.
Government has since been mulling the change for sometime until April 2021 when government agreed to drop the OTT tax replacing it with 12% tax levied on Internet data in the new financial year, which takes effect tomorrow Thursday July 1, 2021.