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Why Social Media tax is proving a hard sell

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Why Social Media tax is proving a hard sell

Information and Technology Minister Frank Tumwebaze has strongly backed government’s intentions to slap taxes on social media users

President Yoweri Museveni has tasked the Minister for Finance Matia Kasaija to introduce new taxes on social media usage, as a means of widening the tax base.

In his March 12, 2018 letter to the Finance minister, Museveni wondered why communications on social media go tax free yet it would be another avenue for expanding the government purse.

“Why don’t you tax voice conversations and other non education communications over the internet via social media eg Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc?” Museveni asked in his letter to Kasaija.

I entirely agree with most Ugandans who have come out to oppose the tax on grounds that it is unfair and ‘scaring’, but I wish to add that the government needs to think outside the current revenue.

Uganda’s main source of revenue is taxation and it is incumbent upon every progressing country to identify its tax base and effect an appropriate duty.

However, my point of contention lies in the way we manage our revenues, particularly the way tax revenue is used. Uganda loses trillions of money in corruption related scandals where taxpayers cash is swindled by top government officials with impunity.

Deputy NRM Secretary General Richard Twodwong’s remarks during a Forum organised by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda in Entebbe that excessive greed and impunity, attests to the point that corruption is deeply rooted in the government.

Twodwong said: “Those who are in positions of leadership may want to collect as much as possible because they don’t see themselves coming back in the next government. We have seen this happen. That kind of greed, that kind of insensitivity makes people disgusted with those in government especially.”

Although President Yoweri Museveni is widely commended for improving the security as well as helping to restore Uganda’s economy which was in ruins when he came to power in 1986, his government has seen a very disturbing setback from corruption that has eaten up almost all sectors in the government.

The recent corruption cases the country has witnessed involving many top government bigwigs leave me wondering whether Ugandans can reap anything from the estimated UGX 1.4 trillion, Museveni hopes to collect once the proposed social media taxes are effected or is it another ‘eating’ avenue for the corrupt.

I will sample a few;

The first case which left me shell shocked was the case of Ugandans Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) where the then minister of information Kabakumba Masiko helped herself with equipment to opereate a private station back home in Hoima. In another related incident, Margaret Muhanga, the Burahya county MP in Kabarole told a white lie to Parliament that she sold goats and cows to raise UGX10.2billion (US$29,647,000) which she used to purchase 23.1 acres of UBC land in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb.

Another scaring scandal is that of ghost workers in different sectors. Several probes have discovered more that 5,000 ghosts on government payroll, another huge hole through which tax payer’s billions are lost.

Uganda has lost billions in Corruption scandals that could have made President Museveni’s dream of transforming the country to middle-income status by 2020 come true.

The list of corruption scandals in a Uganda is very long and it stems from the weak existing laws in the country, lack of will to implement them and the blood, friendly and historical relationships between the corrupt and policy implementers.

In 2009, more than 212 billion was lost in Umeme Scandal as government’s contribution to subsidize the electricity and in 2012 over UGX169b meant to clear outstanding pension claims of 1,018 former East African Community workers went missing according to the Anti-corruption coalition Uganda.

Meanwhile, Ugandans wouldn’t find any problems in paying whichever tax (es) and there wouldn’t be any need for marketing the proposed tax in the public by its proponents, if they were convinced of usefulness.

The president further claimed that the country cannot continue depending on donations and grants due to the minister’s “unseriousness” in taxation. To me, it is misappropriation of the existing taxes that has nurtured and fertilised the dependency culture and frustrated the country’s desire to sail into the highly anticipated middle income status soon.

Unless the president strictly acts on corruption which is in an accelerating mode, tax on social media platforms and indeed several other ventures, won’t bring meaningful.

Kungu Al-mahadi Adam can be reached at
adamkungu7[at]gmail.com

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