The Ugandan parliament is looking for any means to milk money from its citizens and of all ways they choose to charge every mobile phone user an annual tax fee of Ush5,000 for each handset, a move legislators say will help raise more revenue.
This proposal, which is yet to be approved, has already been endorsed by the Budget Committee of Parliament which is chaired by Amos Lugoloobi (Ntenjeru North). The idea came up for discussion as the committee debated a request by the Electoral Commission to have their salaries that were set 15 years ago reviewed.
With an estimated 17.5 million mobile phone handsets in the country, this tax would fetch about Shs87 billion annually if adopted by Parliament. For the financial year 2014/15, the government needs Shs14 trillion to run its operations- up from Shs13 trillion for this current financial year.
Except for Kole County MP Fred Ebil, who opposed the idea, saying it would increase the burden on tax payers, the rest of the committee endorsed Ekanya’s idea.
The chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee, Stephen Tashobya, said that on the Budget Committee that Shs57.3 billion was needed to effect the salary changes for the EC.
The MPs rejected the argument that Ugandans, especially those in the countryside, could not afford the Shs5,000.
Eddie Kwizera (NRM, Bufumbira East): “This proposal will never pass. We are going to block it in public interest. We are already paying taxes through airtime. The prices are inclusive of taxes. You can tax an income or transaction and not usage because owning a mobile phone is not a transaction. If they want, they can increase other taxes on usage but not to impose taxes on ownership.”
The civil society, however, dismissed the idea, saying it was another attempt at over-taxing Ugandans yet offering little in terms of accountability.
“Government priorities are not in line with what the people want hence the extra revenue they want will not help the ordinary Ugandan,” Cissy Kagaba said on behalf of the Civil Budget Advocacy Group.
The decision of whether to pass the proposed phone tax will be given after receiving communication from the Budget Committee.
Ekanya also proposed that tax on bottled drinking water be raised, before advising that those who think the tax will affect them “to always travel with their own water”.